25 October 2007


25 October 2007
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-second General Assembly

Third Committee

24th & 25th Meetings (AM & PM)





Rapporteur Calls for New Standards

Of International Law to Protect Refugees Fleeing Hunger

As it pressed on with its discussion of key human rights issues, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), acting without a vote, approved a draft resolution that would have the General Assembly call upon States to focus attention on the upcoming review of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing that was adopted in 2002.

Sponsored by Pakistan on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, the resolution approved by the Committee today on the follow-up to the Second World Assembly on Ageing would have the Assembly encourage Governments to pay greater attention to eradicating poverty among older persons by mainstreaming ageing issues into poverty eradication and national development strategies and plans.  The text also calls upon Member States to actively take part in preparations for the review of the Madrid Plan of Action, and encourages the international community and United Nations agencies to support national efforts to address ageing.

The Committee also heard from the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, who warned of the consequences of turning over vast areas of arable lands to biofuel production.  He called for a five-year moratorium on all initiatives to develop such fuels to avert what he predicted might be “horrible” food shortages.  According to Mr. Ziegler, the United States and Brazil had invested heavily in the production of biofuels that used food crops, with thousands of acres dedicated to the making of bioethanol and biodiesel.  The former was doing so to ease its reliance on imported fuels, and the latter to free itself of foreign debt.  But, given that a 50-litre tank of biofuel contained enough grain to “feed a Mexican child for a year”, there was a real danger of less food and higher food prices, resulting in more hunger.  That would amount to “a crime against humanity”.

Turning to global trade and the impact on food, Mr. Ziegler denounced what he called “terrible hypocrisy” in Brussels -- the headquarters of the European Union -– vis-à-vis agricultural subsidies, which led to the dumping of European foodstuffs in the developing world.  He also called for new standards of international law to be established to protect “refugees from hunger” to ensure that people forced to migrate in search of food did not find themselves being turned away at borders.

His counterpart Rapporteur for the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Paul Hunt, informed the Committee about his efforts to set out human rights guidelines for the world’s pharmaceutical companies, which he said could lead to better access to medicine and vaccines for people afflicted by “neglected diseases”, such as river blindness, sleeping sickness and lymphatic filariasis.

Mr. Hunt said that, while States had primary responsibility for enhancing access to medicines, the human rights responsibilities of pharmaceutical companies in relation to access to medicines had yet to be clarified.  He noted that a two-phase, five-year proposal that he had drawn up to develop those guidelines had faltered, due to a reluctance of pharmaceutical companies to take part.  “But the work still needs to be done,” he said, adding that he was open to all comments on draft guidelines that he had made public in September.

Several delegations, notably from South America, including Brazil, rejected the idea of a moratorium on biofuels, underlining how production of biofuels was already helping to raise incomes and living standards in rural areas, without upsetting food supplies.  The representative of Columbia, for instance, said biofuels had led to the creation of 40,000 jobs.  His colleague from Venezuela, however, agreed with the Special Rapporteur, stating that replacing gasoline with biofuels would “bring death and devastation” to many countries and create food refugees.

Also briefing the Committee today were Bernards Andrew Nyamwaya Mudho, the independent expert on the effects of economic reform policies and foreign debt on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights; Hina Jilani, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders; Leandro Despouy, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; and Yakin Ertürk, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.

At the end of today’s session, the representatives of Iran, Ethiopia, Syria and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Committee will meet again on tomorrow at 10 a.m. to continue its discussion of human rights.


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today continued its general discussion on human rights.  For more background, please see Press Release GA/SHC/3893 of 24 October 2007.

The committee also had before it the note by the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (document A/62/223).  The report “deplores” the extension of the house arrest of the National League for Democracy (NLD) General Secretary Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and notes that human rights concerns highlighted in the present report are largely very similar to those highlighted by the Special Rapporteur last year, with the occurrence of forced labour and numerous other human rights violations.

Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health

PAUL HUNT, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, recalled that more than 500,000 women died during childbirth or from complications of pregnancy every year –- one death a minute -- with 95 per cent of the fatalities either African or Asian.  The scale of maternal mortality dwarfed the number of “disappearances” and death penalty cases, which attracted much more attention.  An international initiative, driven by civil society, was launched at a conference last week in London on maternal mortality and human rights.  The Human Rights Council could play a leadership role by convening a Special Session on maternal mortality; that could save women’s lives and reduce suffering.

Among some Governments and international organizations, there had been a tendency to pay too much attention to medical care, at the expense of the underlying determinants of health, he said.  Access to better water and sanitation would save millions of lives; it would also reduce malaria, diarrhoeal diseases and other illnesses.  Every dollar invested in better water and sanitation would yield economic benefits of between three and 34 dollars, depending on the region, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).  Effective monitoring and accountability mechanisms on water and sanitation had yet to be put in place by States.  Global warming had led to a decline in dependable access to water, leading people to resort to polluted alternatives that led to ill health.  A study on the impact of climate change on human rights should be undertaken by the Human Rights Council as soon as possible.

Mr. HUNT drew attention to neglected diseases, which mainly afflicted the poorest people in the poorest countries, such as river blindness, sleeping sickness and lymphatic filariasis.  According to WHO, almost 1 billion people suffered from disabilities and deformities caused by such diseases.  Basic public health measures, such as access to clean water and sanitation, would significantly reduce the impact of several neglected diseases.  Development of new drugs and vaccines for neglected diseases had historically been under-funded, largely due to the lack of a market incentive, although in recent years active steps had been taken by some pharmaceutical companies to redress that imbalance.

He referred to his report on his 2006 mission he had undertaken to Uganda, and a report that he had co-authored titled “Neglected Diseases:  A Human Right Analysis” which, when read together, provided a practical introduction to the issue.  They showed that the right to the highest attainable standard of health was not mere rhetoric, but a practical tool for good policymaking.  While States had primary responsibility for enhancing access to medicines, pharmaceutical companies had responsibilities as well.  What precisely were the human rights responsibilities of those companies in relation to access to medicine, and how could those companies be expected to respect human rights if it was not clear what was required of them?  Draft guidelines for pharmaceutical companies vis-à-vis access to medicines had been prepared by the Special Rapporteur; these were available for comment until 31 December 2007.  He sought to be practical and constructive, and deliberately avoided controversial doctrinal issues that had plagued debate about corporations and human rights.  Substantive meetings had been held with a number of pharmaceutical companies, in conjunction with Realizing Rights:  The Ethical Globalization Initiative led by Mary Robinson.

The Special Rapporteur set out a two-phase proposal:  first, a small group of human rights experts and representatives of pharmaceutical companies should work together to identify as much common ground as possible; second, after perhaps two years of consultations by that group, another small group could be appointed to evaluate the policies and practices of certain pharmaceutical companies over a three-year period, with the evaluations to be made public.  Two pharmaceutical companies, Novartis and NovoNordisk, were willing to proceed with that proposal, but the majority of others were not.  The Special Rapporteur, with Mrs. Robinson, thus felt that there was no alternative but to put the two-phase proposal aside.  But, work still needed to be done.  It was hoped that the guidelines would clarify what would be expected of pharmaceutical companies in relation to access to medicines and the highest attainable standard of health.  The Special Rapporteur’s aim was to finalize those guidelines in 2008.

The representative of Libya said that pharmaceutical companies nowadays had a great influence on everything, and their status was reminiscent of arms companies long ago who had great influence on politicians.  Did the Special Rapporteur, with respect to the guidelines he had drafted, put in any legally binding human rights standards for those pharmaceutical companies?  He also asked why only two pharmaceutical companies were willing to join the two-phase proposal.

Brazil’s representative asked how States could contribute to the process Mr. Hunt had initiated, and to the efforts to address neglected diseases, which were very important to developing countries.

The representative of Portugal asked about the prioritization of health interventions, and how treaty bodies could give more guidance to States in that regard.  Regarding impact assessments, he asked how Member States could receive assistance from the United Nations in implementing their recommendations.

Cuba’s representative asked what the Special Rapporteur had meant when he said donors should ensure that their programmes were in accordance with national priorities.  Should donors support his work on access to medicine, for example?

The representative of Indonesia asked about the integration of health into national and international policymaking, and said that while all of the policies were intended to realize the right to health, scarce resources often dictated decisions.  She asked if there was a definite plan to discuss the Special Rapporteur’s report on impact assessments some more.

PAUL HUNT replied to Libya’s question by saying that the draft guidelines would not be legally binding, but he hoped they would be so persuasive and credible that they would be of assistance to States, pharmaceutical companies and international organizations.  He also hoped the proposed guidelines would assist pharmaceutical companies to formulate their projects in a way that respected human dignity and communities, as well as all right-to-health considerations.  Those guidelines were a tool to assist pharmaceutical companies, because a lot of them said they would like to respect the highest attainable standard of health, but they did not know what that meant vis-à-vis access to medicines.

Regarding the declination by other pharmaceutical companies to participate in the two-phase proposal, he said it was best if he did not speak for them, but allowed them to explain themselves.  He had gone to a lot of trouble to try and frame the proposal to make it acceptable to all, he said, but in the end an insufficient number of pharmaceutical companies were prepared to join.  Those companies could not hold veto power over the work, and if the cooperative method could not work, another method had to be found.  That was why he had taken on the consultative role of preparing draft guidelines.

In response to Brazil’s question on how States could participate, he said countries had a critical role to play.  He would be most grateful if other States were able to organize informal consultations like Brazil had recently done, so the guidelines could be discussed further.  He also welcomed country’s comments on the guidelines.  Addressing neglected diseases, he said he had completed two reports on the issue.  The right to health had a number of components, and all sorts of political initiatives were required, he said.  His two reports could help to show how human rights could help policymaking vis-à-vis health, thus making such policies more just and helpful.

In response to Portugal’s question about the issue of prioritization, and what role of treaty bodies in the matter, Mr. Hunt said, “I have grasped this nettle.”  More work on the issue was needed, and the treaty bodies should look at the matter more carefully than they had done before.  In his past, in one of the treaty bodies, he said, “We didn’t look at this issue of prioritization in a systematic way.”  There was not a lot of guidance from treaty bodies about choosing between competing health interventions with a finite budget.  There should be more guidance to Governments from treaty bodies, he said. 

Turning to health impact assessments, he said they were “really important”, because before States introduced a policy, they had a duty to reflect on the impact it would have on the right to health of those living in poverty.  How could a State make sensible choices without an assessment of the impact, he asked.  “It has to have a way to predict,” he said, adding, “I tried to signal a methodology.”

In answer to Cuba’s question about whether donors should support the draft guidelines, he said a number of States’ responses, particularly the United Kingdom, had been inspiring, and he hoped that recipient countries and donor companies would support the initiative.

In answer to Indonesia’s question, he agreed that one size did not fit all; the integration of the right to health into existing frameworks was the best approach.  He said he hoped the report on impact assessments would be more widely read.  In conclusion, he acknowledged that cultural considerations did have to be taken into account in policymaking on impact assessments.

The representative of Venezuela raised the matter of health insurance, asking whether guidelines should be directed at insurers as well.

The representative of China asked what role international cooperation could play in improving health standards, and what steps the Special Rapporteur was taking to bring pharmaceutical companies into the guidelines process, which should also include States. 

The representative of South Africa voiced support for the Special Rapporteur, saying she looked forward to interaction with him in Geneva.

Mr. HUNT said he would be putting a significant report before the Human Rights Council in the new year to identify the key right-to-health features in a health system.  The matter of health insurance was not on his agenda, but he had taken note of the representative of Venezuela’s remarks with interest.  On the role of international assistance and cooperation, he recalled that last year, he had been invited by Sweden to look at the right-to-health there.  While there, he had been invited to study Sweden’s impact on the right-to-health in Uganda.  That report was in preparation, and it would look at what happened in practical terms between donor States and developing countries vis-à-vis cooperation on health matters.  While it was regrettable that the proposal to draft guidelines for pharmaceutical companies had been put aside, contacts with those companies and industry groups continued.  Inputs were being actively sought and encouraged.  The Special Rapporteur then thanked South Africa for its words of support.

Right to Food

JEAN ZIEGLER, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, focused his presentation on the injustices committed against refugees who were fleeing starvation.  Old standards to define refugees did not include those who were running from hunger, and thus were of limited use, he said.  European agricultural subsidies caused agricultural dumping of European products in African markets, undercutting African agriculture.  The World Trade Organization (WTO) did not recognize the right to food, and other Governments did not recognize economic, social and cultural rights as human rights, focusing only on civil and political rights. 

“We must combat the new total free trade agreement,” he said, and establish a new human right of non-refoulement of refugees from hunger.  The World Food Programme (WFP) published a map every three months that indicated where it was not possible for people to subsist, and under numerous laws, the people falling into that category were classified as in need.  This could be objectively illustrated, he said, using the example of an ambulance on First Avenue, New York, going twice the legal speed limit, thus breaking the law.  This was tolerated, however, because of the greater need to save a life than to follow the speed limit.  The treatment of refugees from hunger should benefit also from that way of thinking.  New standards of international law had to be established for refugees from hunger.

Turning to biofuels, he said that the United States and Brazil had invested hugely in the production of biofuels using food crops.  Those countries had allocated thousands of acres of arable land for biofuel production.  It would be very negative if the situation escalated.  Hundreds of millions of cars produced greenhouse gases at intolerable levels.  A superior interest -- the survival of mankind –- was also at stake.  To fill a car’s tank with 50 liters of biofuel required enough maize to feed a Mexican child for a year.  The price of wheat throughout the world had also doubled, while the price of maize had quadrupled.

Numerous countries, even without disasters, were not self-sufficient in food.  With food prices increasing, many African countries would not have the money to keep their people alive.  The United States would only be able to give WFP half of last year’s donation because of increasing prices, he said.  Using food crops to provide bioethanol was a crime against humanity.  There should be a moratorium on the transfer of arable land to the production of bioethanol so that kind of land cannot be converted to produce biofuels.  In five years, the technology to produce biofuels with agricultural waste would be in place, so the international community should wait for that instead of using the plains of India and Brazil that were now using food to make fuel.

Multinational companies were making huge profits, he noted, adding that such organizations were not the Red Cross, but rather worked for profit, as was their right.  But, when the right to food was denied, the international community had to act.  He then quoted Rousseau, who said in The Social Contract that “between the rich and the poor, it is freedom which oppresses and it is law which liberates”.

The representative of Portugal (on behalf of the European Union), asked what could be done to alleviate the plight of children affected by hunger.  On biofuels, she also asked what role corporate social responsibility might play. 

The representative of Cuba asked what positive developments had been seen in developing countries.  She also enquired about a shortage of funding for the WFP, particularly in southern Africa, and the work of the Special Rapporteur’s successor, particularly on emerging issues. 

The representative of Brazil asked if more attention could have been given by the Special Rapporteur in his report to the relationship between food and trade; she also said it was hard to see how biofuels would affect the right to food; in her country, biofuel production had lifted incomes and living standards in rural areas -- ethanol manufacture over 30 years had shown that biofuel production was fully compatible with food production.

The representative of Burkina Faso noted that subsidized cotton from the European Union had as much an impact on developing countries such as his as subsidized food exports.  He called for “a level playing field” in global trade. 

The representative of Nigeria drew attention to his country’s experience with cassava production, suggesting that lessons could be drawn for other countries. 

The representative of Venezuela rejected the idea of replacing gasoline with biofuels, predicting that doing so would “bring death and devastation” to many countries and create food refugees.  She asked if the Special Rapporteur might elaborate on possible legal instruments to protect people from hunger, and to ensure that they were not turned away from borders when they had to migrate to find food.  In that context, she also asked about possible cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The representative of Colombia said his country had embarked on biofuel production without jeopardizing its food industry.  Some 40,000 jobs were being created thanks to such production, which had provided an alternative to illegal products.  He suggested a full analysis of the idea of a moratorium on biofuels.

The representative of South Africa asked for the proposal for a new standard of international law on hunger, saying that such an effort would be “very challenging.” 

The representative of Switzerland said biofuels were an alternative source of energy that was clean -- they also created jobs and would help resolve trade issues.  He also asked what should be the standard to ensure the right to food.

The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea asked to “set the record straight” on remarks Mr. Ziegler had made in his report about his country. 

The representative of Libya praised the Special Rapporteur for the “hell of a job he had done”, and asked if something should be done to urge rich countries to help starving children in the developing world.  He also cited the “negative impact of genetic food on people’s health”.

The Observer for Palestine, referring to the “strangulation policies of the occupying power”, enquired about the legal ramifications of an occupying power denying food to those whose lands were being occupied. 

The representative of Indonesia said that several aspects of biofuel production had been overlooked by the Special Rapporteur, adding that such production could help overcome poverty. 

The representative of China, noting falling poverty in his country, asked to what extent the Special Rapporteur could contribute to WTO’s Doha Development Round. 

The representative of Norway referred to the integration of voluntary guidelines to eradicate hunger in the context of the Millennium Development Goals. 

The representative of Paraguay expressed reservations about the recommendations that had been made about biofuels.  His was a landlocked country that was vulnerable to the price of imported fuels, and it therefore did not agree with a moratorium on the production on biofuels. 

The representative of Peru asked about the relationship between the right to food and indigenous populations.

In answer to Portugal’s question, Mr. ZIEGLER said that the most urgent measure was to implement the decisions on trade taken at the sixth WTO Ministerial Conference in December 2005.  Under pressure from India and Brazil, industrialized countries had agreed to remove subsidies and put an end to dumping.  The WTO was at its wits’ end, he said.  The Doha round had been blocked and the Hong Kong decisions were not being implemented, so the dumping continued.   Cancun had failed, and so agricultural dumping continued.  States had to agree to cease agricultural dumping.  Using the example of France, he said farmers were very powerful politically, and when the Government said no to removing export subsidies, its political need was understood.  But, at the same time, the right to food was being trampled.  States had to remove these subsidies.

Addressing what multinationals should do about biofuels, he said non-State actors would have to abide if a moratorium was adopted.  He thanked Cuba for the country’s solidarity, and praised Brazil’s “zero hunger” programme.  Latin America was showing greatest progress in the right to food.  He said Brazil was a fascinating country, and noted at the end of this week there would be a congress of civil society convened by the landless movement, which was radically opposed to the biofuels movement.  The President of Brazil, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, was one of the founders of that movement, but now its former founder was opposed to the landless movement on that issue.

Mr. Ziegler said Burkina Faso’s reference to cotton was right, and the market for cotton from Mali and Burkina Faso was totally devastated by American cotton invading that market, which had devastated their industry.

Nigeria was making a lot of progress, he said, and praised the country for wanting to ensure self-sufficiency in food despite its large earnings from the oil industry, which normally would have allowed it to buy food rather than grow it.

Venezuela had talked about dramatic measures including the right to food, and it was amazing how quickly results could be achieved, he said.  In Colombia, the church and other groups, working together, had been very effective in preventing massive evictions and opposing paramilitary organizations who were working for multinationals.  The latter two wanted the land for biofuels, he said, and paid tribute to the courage of Colombian non-governmental organizations.

Addressing South Africa’s new law regarding non-refoulement, he said from Spanish territories in Morocco, along the coast, thousands had been pushed into the Sahara.  But Spain could not be reproached, since it provided a lot of technical cooperation to African countries.  But, under the law today, a hunger refugee who tried to enter the European Union was entering illegally.  This could no longer be illegal, and there was a need for a new human right –- namely, the right to non-refoulement for refugees of hunger throughout the European Union.

He said many United Nations organs, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and WFP did so much for cultural rights, but the WTO and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with its structural readjustment policy, were totally contradictory.

Replying to the question from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he said that of course hunger refugees existed, and they formed a Korean diaspora in Manchuria -- by illegally crossing borders -- so the representative of that country was right.

Replying to the representative of Libya’s question about genetically modified organisms, he said he was against that practice, not only because of health, but because of the financial slavery that meant for the poorest.  Using a seed, and taking it from the harvest to sow it next year, was what farmers had been doing since the dawn of time.  But, with genetically modified organisms, they now had to pay dues on the copyright “year after year after year”.  Most southern hemisphere farmers were the poorest, and they had to pay.

In response to the Observer for Palestine, he said Israeli occupation was illegal and should end.  The blockade of the West Bank was a total violation of the fourth Geneva Convention, and that well-being, food, water and medicine were all being withheld from the occupied population.

The price of oil, he said in response to the representative of Indonesia, did have an effect on countries, and biodiesel was not the solution.

Replying to China, he noted that in 14 years, the largest country in the world has become self-sufficient in food.  “Of course I am against the subsidy policy, but I am only a little scholar and I make my contribution as best I can,” he said.

Replying to the representative of Norway, he said the directives were very useful for the different types of cooperation.  The high price of oil had the greatest impact on poor people and had increased food prices.  Situational hunger was caused by things like drought.  Structural hunger, however, was different, and meant people consistently could not afford to buy food.

He said his mandate was ending and this was the last time he would be in the Third Committee.  It was up to the States to nominate a successor, and although he might have a word to say, the mandate had to emphasize the totalizing aspect of hunger.  The WTO said they did not recognize economic and social rights, and it was the same situation with the IMF.  But, human rights were indivisible and independent.  That was a United Nations decision, and all States had to respect human rights and give them effect.  He hoped that the “intelligent dialogue” today would take the international community a little step farther in the fight against hunger, “which is so unacceptable”, he concluded.

Effects of Economic Reform Policies and Foreign Debt on the Full Enjoyment of All Human Rights

BERNARD MUDHO, Independent Expert of the Human Rights Council on the effects of economic reform policies and foreign debt on the full enjoyment of all human rights, discussed the draft guidelines that States and international financial institutions would follow when executing debt payments and structural reform programmes, including those arising from foreign debt relief.  The objective was to ensure that commitments derived from foreign debt would not undermine obligations for realizing fundamental economic, social and cultural rights.  The draft guidelines acknowledged States’ obligations to take both individual and joint steps to realize those rights, and further, sought to provide a framework for designing economic reform and debt management polices while upholding human rights obligations.

On foreign debt, he said the guidelines suggested that criteria by international financial institutions could be improved to account for the impact of debt servicing on a country’s capacity to fulfil its human rights obligations.  Loan performance should be monitored by creditors and borrowers, while agreements should allow reviews of loan conditions.  The global economy should also agree on common lending principles, he added. 

Addressing economic reforms, he said the guidelines called for social, economic and cultural rights impact assessments, and provided guidance in areas such as macroeconomic stabilization, trade liberalization and social sector reform.  They recommended, for example, that human rights obligations play a major role in trade negotiations, and that adequate consideration be given to the issues of user fees and subsidization when implementing social sector reform.  Lastly, the guidelines underscored the need for transparent, accountable and participatory governance.  Efficient public sector services should be based on human rights obligations and rights-based approaches.  He called for input to the draft, as he would present his final report to the Human Rights Council in December.  He hoped the guidelines would provide a basis for constructive discussions on economic management, particularly in developing countries influenced by the financial components of international aid.

Opening the dialogue sessions with Mr. Mudho, the representative of Kenya asked what might be done to bridge the gap between modernizing economic policies and concerned people who wanted to retain their cultural rights. 

The representative of Cuba asked when the guidelines mentioned in Mr. Mudho’s statement would be available. 

The representative of Indonesia , referring to the “imposition” of economic policies from outside, said that even if such an approach could be validated by statistics, only the country concerned had the best understanding of the complexities involved vis-à-vis its own economic situation.  The draft guidelines were too cautious, he said, and asked how they addressed the “enabling international environment” on which the success of economic reform so often depended.

Mr. MUDHO replied that economic measures should be sensitive to the cultural situations of concerned countries, and that was why the guidelines in question had specified country-specific benchmarks.  They provided thematic guidance only, and it was highly recommended that the next Independent Expert review, revise and develop those guidelines. 

Responding to the representative of Cuba, he said he assumed that every delegation had received the guidelines.  He would, however, ask the Secretariat to ensure that they were circulated.

To the question posed by the representative of Indonesia, he agreed that guidelines should take into account country-specific situations, adding that no one formula would ever fit every scenario.  Discussions with the World Bank and the IMF were planned for next month; those institutions had made efforts to linkdebt relief with poverty reduction, and their representatives had taken an active part in expert consultations in Geneva in July.

Introduction of Draft Resolution

The representative of Italy introduced a draft resolution on strengthening the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme, in particular its technical cooperation capacity (A/C.3.62/L.12).  The text would support the work of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The secretary read out a correction on the numbering of the draft resolution.

Italy’s representative said the Third Committee had the opportunity to take the activities of UNODC into account, which were of great importance to the international community.  All Member States should take the opportunity to steer the Office’s activities.  For almost three weeks, Italy had been holding consultations to let the draft include all stakeholders’ interests.  So far, 24 delegations had joined Italy in co-sponsoring the draft resolution, and he expressed hopes that more would join before its adoption.

Action on Resolution

The Committee then took action on a draft resolution entitled Follow-up to the International Year of Older Persons:  Second World Assembly on Ageing (document A/C.3/62/L.9), which called upon Member States to actively take part in the bottom-up approach of the review and appraisal of the Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing that had been adopted in 2002.

The Chairman announced that the draft had no programme budget implications.  The representative of Pakistan, the main sponsor of the draft on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, made oral revisions to the draft; she also expressed hope that it would be adopted by consensus.

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

Human Rights of Defenders

HINA JILANI, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders, told the Third Committee her present report was a continuation of last year’s discussion, and focused on the right to peaceful protest as a legitimate manifestation of the fundamental freedom of expression, assembly and movement.  Denial of the right to assembly was the clearest sign of the absence of democratic freedom, she said.

The communications she had sent to Governments concerned issues such as constitutional reform, independence of the judiciary, the situation of refugees and internally displaced persons, children’s rights, cases of torture, impunity, disappearances and public demonstration of solidarity with human rights defenders who were detained.  Often, she had been joined by the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, because many of the allegations had indicated that human rights defenders were targeted because of their gender.

She was disturbed to note that acts of repression and retaliation against student activists had been particularly harsh.  Labour rights protesters suffered dismissal, while trade union members were blacklisted.  Human rights defenders engaged in peaceful protests linked to land rights faced arrest and detention, and, in some cases, were killed, she added.

Anti-terrorism measures, used as pretext to restrict the right to protest and freedom of assembly, had affected peace demonstrations after September 11, she said.  Anti-war and peace groups suffered harassment and intimidation because of intrusive surveillance of their activities by Government agencies.

The continuing situation in Myanmar was the most glaring illustration of the suppression of the freedom to protest, and she expressed her concern about the situation of human rights defenders in that country.

The exercise of the right to protest played an important role both for the promotion and the protection of human rights, she said.  The imposition of criminal sanctions against unauthorized demonstrations, even though peaceful, had an intimidating effect on public action by defenders against human rights violations.  Drawing support from the pronouncements of the Human Rights Council, as well as regional bodies, she had made recommendations that emphasized the role of State agencies for law enforcement, local and national judiciaries, and civil society organizations in strengthening the protection of human rights defenders and in facilitating their work.

The representative of Portugal (on behalf of the European Union) said that the right to freedom of association was still regularly violated, most recently in Myanmar and also in Belarus.  She asked the Special Representative about the role of regional human rights organizations; countries that would not allow visits by the Special Representative; whether the situation of human rights defenders had gotten worse; how the Third Committee could help; and whether environmental activists could be regarded as human rights defenders.

The representative of Cuba asked for a breakdown of how individuals and groups should act -- within the law -- when protesting, and about the negative fallout of anti-terrorist regulations that were used against protesters.

The representative of Norway noted how the message of peaceful anti-globalization protests had been lost by violent fringe action and sensational media coverage, and asked what States could do to address that matter.

The representative of Indonesia referred to legislation that had been frequently criticized for blocking peaceful protest.

The representative of Iran expressed serious misgivings and reservations about the Special Representative’s report, stating that it set no criteria for ensuring the stability and security of Member States.  He went to ask whether the Special Representative was performing well beyond her mandate, and whether that mandate should be replaced by “a high-priority issue”.

The representative of the Netherlands asked how human rights defenders could use international monitoring mechanisms.  He also asked how the international community could help those defending the rights of gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

The representative of Chile drew attention to “serious inaccuracies” in a section of the report that referred to his country in the context of protests over land rights and environmental claims.

The representative of Canada expressed deep concern about the harassment of human rights defenders in Zimbabwe.  She also asked how other mandate holders could help her address the arrests of those who faced arbitrary detention and arrest when calling for free and fair elections.

The representative of Finland raised the matter of women human rights defenders, as well as the guidelines of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on freedom of assembly.

The representative of the United States said that his country never viewed human rights defenders as a threat, although it did not always agree with them.  He asked how the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders could be better disseminated.  He also noted the attention that the Special Representative had given to human rights defenders in Burma.

The representative of Myanmar said that his country did not condone human rights violations as a policy.  Recalling remarks made by his delegation in the Committee yesterday, he said what had happened in Myanmar had to be seen in the context of a complex political transition.  What had happened was very tragic.  Myanmar understood why recent events had been referred to regularly by other delegations, but such references should now stop.

The representative of the Russian Federation asked:  if human rights defenders had special status, then what punishment should be imposed in the event of them acting excessively?  He added that Mrs. Jilani had gone beyond her mandate and submitted a controversial report that contained dubious recommendations.

Ms. JILANI, in response to various questions, emphasized that her report was about the right to peaceful protest, which in turn was a part of the right to peaceful assembly.  Her mandate was rooted in actions to protect the right to assembly.  Some countries had raised the question about her interaction with regional bodies, and in response she said that since taking over the mandate, she had been instrumental in creating processes for better cooperation with United Nations bodies.  They had tried to share experiences and also to inform each other of the best ways in resolving situations, keeping in mind the needs of Governments as well as the realities on the ground -- thereby giving more strength to each others’ endeavours.

Responding to Cuba’s questions, she explained the legal reasoning behind her interpretation of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Addressing Norway’s question, she said in many parts of the world, it was the denial of social and economic rights that resulted in action by human rights defenders.  Such action had invited responses from States, which in turn resulted in violations of civil and political rights.  The right to protest was directly connected to State stability.  Nevertheless, that right should not be jeopardized by behaviour that went beyond what was acceptable.

In that respect, training of law enforcement personnel was essential so they could recognize the difference between peaceful protest and threats to public order.  Law enforcement also had to be trained to understand the needs of women and children present at a peaceful public action.

She hoped the guidelines on peaceful protest would become a step which would be further developed and more widely adopted so more countries and societies could subscribe to them.  Once that respect for human rights defenders became apparent to different entities, it would become much better in terms of the work human rights defenders did.  It was important for national laws to respect and strengthen freedoms such as that of assembly and access to information, she said, with reasonable restrictions which would be clear to everybody.

She ended by thanking the delegates for their appreciation of her work and assured them that she was well aware of the parameters of her mandate.  She had always tried to carry out her mandate with integrity, and had never overstepped it vis-à-vis the promotion and protection of human rights defenders.

Independence of Judges and Lawyers

LEANDRO DESPOUY, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, said that in 2006, an increase in the number of urgent interventions that he had made demonstrated the vulnerability of judges and lawyers vis-à-vis their security and independence.  Adequate protection had often not been provided to them by the authorities, and criminal acts often went unpunished.  Judicial reforms had sometimes led to restrictions on judicial independence.  He cited instances of detentions without trial; the judgement of civilians by military courts; the creation of special courts that violated normal judicial norms; and amnesty laws that spared serious human rights violators from justice.  Many complaints had been received about laws dealing with terrorism and national security.  The Human Rights Council had welcomed a proposal to reflect on the protection of human rights in the context of states of emergency; a seminar on that topic would be held in Geneva.

Regarding access to justice, a matter that affected the most vulnerable members of society, he said that his next report to the Human Rights Council would address that topic and make recommendations.  In many countries, judicial systems lacked resources.  There was also a problem with the geographic concentration of judicial services.  The lack of information on rights for those using judicial services was yet another problem.  When conflict erupted, total judicial paralysis emerged.  Turning to the Sudan, he said a lack of cooperation by that country with the International Criminal Court was a concern which seriously impeded investigations and the appearance of suspects before the Court.  The Special Rapporteur also warned Uganda against reaching a peace agreement that would include amnesty for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other human rights violations.

Mr. Despouy referred to the case of Awraz Abdel Aziz Mahmoud Sa’eed, who had been hanged in Iraq on 3 July despite his public request for his execution to be suspended.  Of the seven people who had possessed knowledge of the attack on the United Nations offices in Baghdad in August 2004, six had died by different acts of violence, leaving Mahmoud Sa’eed as the only survivor.  He had shown a willingness to cooperate with United Nations officials investigating the attack, in which 22 people had died.  The basis of the Special Rapporteur’s request had been the right of the victims to the truth.  Mr. Despouy went on to refer to the trial of Khmer Rouge officials in Cambodia, and then to the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which was “extremely disquieting” due to a clearly insufficient number of courts and judges.  That was compounded by difficult access to justice due to transport difficulties, lack of money, long distances and corruption.  The presence of the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was very strong and very good; it was a country whose development had to be clearly followed.  He said he intended to visit the Russian Federation and Guatemala next year, and he expected a positive response to a request to visit Fiji where the President of the Supreme Court had been removed following a coup d’etat there.

The representative of Portugal asked how the United Nations could contribute to tackling the problems the Special Rapporteur had identified, and asked for more details about the planned seminars.  On the issue of the extraordinary chambers in Cambodia, the representative asked Mr. Despouy if he believed the timetable could still be maintained.

The representative of Mexico asked about access to justice.  As the Special Rapporteur had told the committee that he would be dealing with that matter, the representative asked if Mr. Despouy could indicate what his recommendations might be.

The representative of Costa Rica also wanted more information on access to justice.

The representative of the Sudan said his country had not ratified the Rome Statute under which the International Criminal Court was established, and so there was no jurisdiction for the International Criminal Court in the Sudan, which had the judicial capacity to take care of its own affairs, he said.  Regarding alleged crimes in Darfur, he said that three tribunals had begun work, and the Court had no jurisdiction over any crime examined by those bodies.  He said he hoped the Special Rapporteur would not involve himself on that issue and confine himself to his mandate.

The representative of the Russian Federation asked about the Special Rapporteur’s work to strengthen the International Criminal Court, and added that his country was looking forward to Mr. Despouy’s visit.

The representative of Brazil said the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations on his country had been taken into account regarding reform of the judiciary in the country, and Brazil looked forward to working with him in the future.

The representative of Argentina said his country supported the very important work of the Special Rapporteur as well as his position on the death penalty.  Highlighting Mr. Despouy’s work on the International Criminal Court, the representative also mentioned the need to step up cooperation so that the Court could carry out its functions.  What were the Special Rapporteur’s views on the outcome of the expert seminar on human rights and states of emergency?  What were his expectations, and how did they relate to the evolution of international humanitarian law?

The representative of Chile said access to justice was very important, and, like Costa Rica, he wanted to know about the impact of future developments on access to justice.

The representative of Fiji said his country interpreted its inclusion in the Special Rapporteur’s report as an expression of concern by the international community about the state of the judiciary. 

The representative of Uruguay said the seminar later in the year would be important, and asked what the Special Rapporteur’s hopes were for the Human Rights Council once a declaration came out of the event.

The representative of Algeria asked what the Special Rapporteur wanted to come out of the seminar.

The representative of the United States asked if there had been any developments after the Special Rapporteur had expressed his wish to visit Iran.

The representative of Switzerland asked if he would be able to include transitional justice as part of his mandate.

The representative of Indonesia said her Government was devoted to the independence of the judiciary.  Her delegation supported the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations that technical assistance should be in line with international norms and standards.

The representative of El Salvador said his country was working to strengthen legal standards to ensure the independence of judges, and asked what the challenges were facing developing countries in gradually developing the judiciary system.

The representative of Libya asked about the international criteria that determined the fairness and transparency of the judiciary in a certain country.  He also asked whether there would be a day when the Third Committee would hear a report that was free of selectivity and politicization.

Responding, Mr. DESPOUY said that questions had been raised about the seminar, and many Latin American countries had expressed an interest in it.  In the 1970s, there were many states of emergency in that region that caused a lot of human rights violations, he noted.  In many counties, the adoption of exceptional measures meant that there was no justice.  Individuals had to be subject to international guarantees and the former Commission on Human Rights.  What had to be done was to make sure there was a declaration which would guarantee that even in crisis situations, countries would respect the process of justice.  There should be clarity on how to ensure that human rights were respected in those situations, he said.  He also suggested that in the future there might be a Special Rapporteur who would follow a working group looking into human rights violations in situations like the ones he had just mentioned.

Turning to situations when States applied national security laws or other such measures, he said that this presented risks especially to the rights of due process and procedural guarantees.  Those rights were being eroded even in countries that used to respect them.  A binding text of universal scope would have a beneficial effect, he said.

Answering the European Union’s concerns, it was important to follow Cambodia closely, as the lack of local justice was addressed by the participation and cooperation of the international community.

Another subject was the problem of access to justice.  Although the judicial system was orderly in many countries, only a number of people had access to it.  It was important to respect the right to a defence.  There was also an obligation to guarantee access to justice as well as development programmes and incentives, he said.

He thanked the Sudan for the clarification, and said his mandate as Special Rapporteur was very clear, adding that the Security Council had brought the case of Darfur to the International Criminal Court.  What he knew was that the preliminary chambers were working, and charges were being formulated by the prosecutor.

He had received the invitation some time ago from Russia, and said he hoped he would be able to visit that country.  He welcomed the constructive work that had been done by his office on structural changes in Brazil.

Addressing Argentina, he said he believed the death penalty was more or less being phased out in the world, and that it was only authorized in extremely serious matters.  He was in favor of supporting what could be a universal moratorium.  He thanked Chile for its question and said he would be happy to visit Fiji.  He thanked Uruguay and Algeria for their questions, and clarified that his statement referred to special situations when judges and lawyers were victims of threats and to structural questions where reforms might affect the judiciary.

Violence Against Women

YAKIN ERTŰRK, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, said her report addressed how culture-based discourses and paradigms had been used to justify violence against women, thus confining the problem to a cultural realm.  Such discourses diverted attention from the inequality that allowed systematic violence against women.  No society had yet achieved gender equality; thus, violence against women, which was embedded in gender inequality, remained universal.  Compromising women’s rights was not an option.  The challenge was to respect and prize cultural diversity, while at the same time develop common strategies to resist oppressive practices in the name of culture.

She referred to missions she undertook last year, starting with Turkey, where she focused on suicide among women in the eastern regions.  There was good reason to believe there had been forced suicides and murder among the recorded female suicides.  In many cases, family members and society bore varying degrees of moral responsibility, as the link between rigid patriarchal oppression and violation of women’s rights had been all too clear.  In the Netherlands, native Dutch women were still affected by gender inequality and that was reflected in labour market participation patterns, gender wage gaps and representation in decision-making.  Domestic violence committed by a current or former male partner was the most prevalent form of violence against women in the Netherlands.  The regulation of prostitution had also not eliminated violence, nor had it strengthened the ability of women in the sex sector to pursue their interests.  In Sweden, there had been some deficiencies in the protection of women exposed to violence, while the vulnerability of women in prostitution had increased following the criminalization of the buying of sex and pimping.

Turning to missions she had undertaken this year, she said violence against women in the private sphere in Algeria was pervasive, yet largely invisible.  The trauma of violence that occurred during the “black decade” meanwhile continued to haunt many women.  In Ghana, female genital mutilation remained prevalent in various parts of the country, despite its criminalization, and women accused of witchcraft had often violently been driven from their communities.  The dramatic situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where sexual violence had been a defining feature of armed conflicts, needed urgent attention.  The situation was most acute in South Kivu, where foreign non-State armed groups had committed sexual atrocities of unimaginable brutality, aimed at the complete physical and psychological destruction of women.  Impunity for crimes against women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was massive.

Looking to 2008, she said that she would visit Tajikistan in January and Saudi Arabia in February.  She had also made requests to visit Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.  Her next thematic report to the Human Rights Council would focus on indicators of violence against women and on State responses to such violence.  Such indicators were needed to generate reliable statistics and to monitor efforts to address the problem.

The representative of Turkey, underlining the high priority his country assigned to violence against women -- in particular domestic violence -- asked what the Special Rapporteur might recommend to raise public awareness of the problem. 

The representative of Portugal (on behalf of the European Union) enquired about best practices, non-State actors, and the “intersection” between culture and violence against women.

The representative of Canada asked what could be achieved with common indicators. 

The representative of Mexico also asked about indicators. 

The representative of Nigeria, noting that violence against women based on culture existed in his country and elsewhere in Africa, asked what the Special Rapporteur could contribute to ensure that education on that issue was given proper attention, particularly in rural areas.

The representative of Algeria said the Special Rapporteur’s report on her country, and its recommendations, were awaited with great interest.  The Algerian authorities were doing their utmost to combat violence against women, and a national strategy had been prepared. 

The representative of Indonesia raised a question on women in decision-making roles, notably in Parliament.

The representative of the Netherlands expressed deep appreciation for the work of the Special Rapporteur, and drew attention to a national policy paper on the emancipation of women in her country.

In her reply, Ms. ERTÜRK said she had visited 14 countries so far -- covering different cultures and legal traditions -- and all had in common gender inequality and violence against women, albeit in different forms.  She had also found an eagerness to tackle the problem, but with varying degrees of success.  Her reports on Algeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ghana would be submitted in March, and today she had only given very preliminary observations.  Domestic violence existed in all countries, regardless of the level of development, education and wealth.  There was an interpersonal aspect to domestic violence, but the structural aspect should not be overlooked, as such violence was rooted in gender inequality.  More work needed to be done on changing attitudes, on understanding power, and on raising awareness in society at large.  Punishment for domestic violence had to be looked at carefully, as women were often reluctant to complain because they did not want their husbands or partners to be imprisoned.  And, increasingly, countries were looking to more innovative solutions to address the matter, for instance through restraining orders.  On the other hand, violence in the public sphere could be addressed with more punitive measures.

Regarding non-State actors, she said the human rights system was still very State-centric; non-State responsibilities had to be handled with more vigilance.  Organized non-State actors such as corporations and financial institutions had taken steps to address violence against women, but armed groups were more difficult to deal with.  The international community needed to address the problem.

Turning to indicators, she said it was very difficult to measure violence against women as the definition of the term itself was controversial.  Much work was already underway on indicators.  Her report would try to suggest basic comparative indicators, with an emphasis on developing such mechanisms at the national level.  The many nuances between severity and recurrence of violence against women also needed to be looked at.

The Special Rapporteur called education a human right as well as a citizen’s right; it was unacceptable that all women throughout the world did not have access to education.  Cultural reasons could not justify such a situation.  The report on Ghana would address how that country had been using incentives to encourage education for girls.  That said, the fight against violence against women could not be achieved by formal education alone, as such violence could be found among the educated as well.  It was a matter of changing mentalities.  The State had to be engaged with communities and society, and not accept what was said to be cultural and traditional.  Cultural norms and values used to uphold human rights violations had to be challenged.

Right of Reply

The representative of Iran spoke in exercise of the right of reply to allegations made yesterday by Portugal, and said that the European Union’s statement turned a blind eye to its own problems with human rights.  He said his delegation wished to be informed of the existence of illegal detention centres within the European Union territory.  He said the death penalty was an effective punishment, and that States that did not apply it were not entitled to question the choice of other countries to use that punishment for serious crimes.  There had to be respect for other systems.  His country had been unjustly criticized.  The European Union gave safe haven to terrorist groups, while Iran had a zero-tolerance policy towards terrorists and drug traders.  His delegation rejected the allegations made against it by the European Union yesterday.  Iran would not give in to manipulation.  His country abided by commitments to promote human rights, and was prepared to engage in dialogue with all interested countries and parties.

The representative of Ethiopia said Portugal had expressed its concern at the situation of human rights in his country.  This was an attempt to accuse Ethiopia of violations of human rights.  The accusations were groundless and misplaced.  Yet, following media distortions, the United Nations was dispatched to the region.  After assessing the situation, the Organization had submitted its findings saying that there was no humanitarian crisis in the Somali regions, but the situation would deteriorate unless food was provided.  The Ethiopian Government’s cooperation with the United Nations was mentioned in the report.   Portugal’s statement would serve no purpose, he said, and even faced by constant distortions by anti-Ethiopian forces his country would continue its cooperation with the Organization.

The representative of Syria, responding to the statement yesterday by Portugal on behalf of the European Union, expressed surprised at what had been said about the good efforts made by her country vis-à-vis refugees.  Syria was committed to human rights, which were protected and promoted through its Constitution.  She also drew attention to the principle of the sovereignty of States and non-intervention in internal affairs.

The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, also responding to Portugal, said his country did not care if the European Union presented a resolution on the situation of human rights in his country.  It was wrong to say, however, that his country was closed to dialogue; a dialogue with the European Union on human rights had been initiated in 2001, but it was later halted unilaterally and without notice by the European side, which then began to submit resolutions.  That development coincided with the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula raised by the United States in 2002.  The European Union could not be trusted and it should stop playing games.  The door of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was always open.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.