24 October 2013

Third Committee Approves Text on Women's Advancement as It Continues Hearing Presentations by Special Rapporteurs, Other Human Rights Experts

24 October 2013
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-eighth General Assembly

Third Committee

25th & 26th Meetings (AM & PM)

Third Committee Approves Text on Women’s Advancement as It Continues Hearing

Presentations by Special Rapporteurs, Other Human Rights Experts

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) approved a draft resolution on the advancement of women and heard several presentations by United Nations experts today, as it continued its discussions on the protection and promotion of human rights.

Acting without a vote, the Committee approved a draft titled “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women” (document A/C.3/68/L.23).  By that text, the General Assembly would invite “the Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women to address and engage in an interactive dialogue with the General Assembly at its sixty-ninth and seventieth sessions under the item on the advancement of women”.

The Committee then heard a presentation by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.

“Based on my findings, I am extremely concerned about the human rights situation in Eritrea, where the most serious human rights violations are being committed,” she said.  Such alarming circumstances had triggered a constant stream of refugees flowing into neighbouring States, she added.

On a related topic, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons said it was “fundamental to recognize the need for a paradigm shift” that would address displacement, not only as a humanitarian concern, but also as a “development and peacebuilding challenge in the period after armed conflicts”.

The Chair of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances underscored the importance of achieving universality for the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.  He also highlighted the complementary nature of his own Committee and that of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.  The Chair-Rapporteur of the latter said in his ensuing remarks that enforced disappearance was a “technique of terror” and a crime against humanity.

In another presentation, the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights said that, “in too many places around the world, the historical narratives promoted by the State in schools are problematic from a human-rights perspective”, emphasizing that her 2013 report (to be issued) addressed the writing and teaching of history, especially in divided and post-conflict societies.  It was challenging to distinguish the legitimate continuous reinterpretation of the past from manipulations of history for political ends, she noted.

The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants pointed out that, since there was no migration body within the United Nations, States continued to govern migration largely on a unilateral basis and through informal processes, which often lacked transparency.  One of the main points of this year’s report on migration had been to advance the possibility of moving the International Organization for Migration inside the United Nations system with a revised, protection-based constitution.

Also making a presentation was the Chair of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, in a statement delivered by an official from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  The Committee was working to “shine a light on migrants’ conditions, showing their systemic and permanent discrimination”, he said.  Recalling the recent tragedy off the Italian island of Lampedusa, he asked how many more people must die before States responded to migrant issues affecting more than 240 million human beings.

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar underscored that, among other pressing issues in that country, Rakhine State remained in a situation of “profound crisis”, due to an unaddressed policy of segregating Muslim communities, particularly that of the Rohingya.  Further, the status quo in Rakhine State had fed a wider anti-Muslim narrative in the whole country, posing a serious threat to overall reform.

Also today, representatives of Senegal, Mongolia, Indonesia, Malawi, Canada, Zambia, Italy and Mexico submitted seven draft resolutions relating to social development, the advancement of women, the promotion and protection of the rights of children, crime prevention and criminal justice, and international drug control.

Participating in today’s interactive dialogues were speakers representing the United States, Switzerland, Australia, European Union delegation, Norway, Djibouti, Sudan, Cuba, Canada, Syria, Norway, Liechtenstein, Serbia, Georgia, Russian Federation, Austria, Argentina, France, Lithuania, Poland, Mexico, Spain, Germany, Brazil, Angola, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Japan, Thailand, Albania, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, China, Norway, Maldives, Indonesia and the International Organization for Migration.

The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 25 October, to continue its general discussion on the protection and promotion of human rights.


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to continue its consideration of human rights.  It was also expected to take action on a draft resolution.  For background information, see Press Release GA/SHC/4076 of 23 October.

Presentation of Reports and Interactive Dialogue

SHEILA B.KEETHARUTH, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea recalled that the Human Rights Council had created her mandate in 2012, adding that because the Government had denied her access to the country, she had been compelled to assess the human rights situation there by listening to expatriate Eritreans.  “Based on my findings, I am extremely concerned about the human rights situation in Eritrea, where the most serious human rights violations are being committed,” she said.  She said her report (not yet available) detailed extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and incommunicado detentions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, inhuman prison conditions, indefinite national service, as well as lack of freedom of expression, opinion, assembly, association, religious belief and movement.

Addressing the question of national service specifically, she said excessive militarization was affecting the fabric of society.  “Eritreans are conscripted for indefinite periods without adequate remuneration,” causing countless numbers to desert and flee the country, she noted.  In addition, extended periods of incommunicado detention seemed to be used as a technique for obtaining information or as a punishment.  Detainees were vulnerable to abuse, lacking access to family members, doctors, lawyers and judges.  The alarming human rights situation in Eritrea had triggered a constant stream of refugees flowing into neighbouring countries, she said.

Recalling the recent tragedy off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy, she said only the improvement of human rights situations on the ground would stop people risking their lives to undertake such dangerous journeys.  Calling on the international community to ensure the protection of those fleeing Eritrea, including by respecting the principle of non-refoulement and granting temporary refuge or protection, she said: “A number of positive steps, including some key legislative and institutional reforms to address human rights concerns affecting most aspects of life in Eritrea, need to be taken.”  Among them was the need to review the unimplemented 1997 Constitution; holding free, fair and transparent elections; releasing all political prisoners and those who had reportedly disappeared; ending the practice of detaining people incommunicado; halting the shoot-to-kill border policy targeting those trying to flee; and respecting all freedoms relating to expression and opinion.

She called on the international community to keep Eritrea under close scrutiny until meaningful change was evident in the country and to intensify efforts for constructive engagement with the Government on improving the human rights situation there.  Innovative ideas would be required to address issues perceived by Eritrea as hostile, and any movement in that regard would necessitate sincere commitment by all sides for genuine dialogue.  “ Eritrea deserves the development it strives for as a country, and all Eritreans should be able to claim and enjoy their human rights, be they civil and political or economic, social and cultural,” she said.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, the representative of Eritrea said that “for over a half a century the Eritrean people have been at the forefront of the struggle for dignity and human rights”.  As a nation rising from war, Eritrea had been engaged over the past two decades in healing the wounds of war, ensuring peace and security, accelerating development and preserving the dignity of its people.  After two decades of independence and despite relentless hostility aimed at undermining its sovereignty, Eritrea had made strides in the promotion and protection of its citizens’ rights, despite remaining challenges and gaps, he continued.

“ Eritrea objects human rights issues to be used as a tool of political pressure,” he said, adding that it was difficult to accept a mandate “evidently designed for political purposes”.  The Special Rapporteur’s mandate had not been created with human rights objectives at its core, and no situation in Eritrea warranted the Human Rights Council’s attention.  There was also need for the Committee to hold the present interactive dialogue, the concerns of which could have been raised during the Eritrean delegation’s presentation of its report for the second cycle of the Universal Peer Review.

The dialogue was spearheaded by the same countries that were holding the entire Eritrean population hostage by imposing “unfair and unjust sanctions”, he continued.  The Special Rapporteur’s presentation fell “far short of that of an independent, impartial and objective expert”, addressing the substantive issues she had raised.  In conclusion, he stressed that the notion of an effective multilateral system could only be realized if it was based on unambiguous and transparent rules applying to all players without selectivity, politicization or double standards.

Other delegates asked about the international community’s role in improving Eritrea’s human rights situation, the measures needed to promote and protect human rights in the country, the opportunity provided by the Universal Peer Review mechanism to scrutinize Eritrean’s human rights implementation, and the role of regional mechanisms in pushing the human rights agenda forward.

Some delegates urged Eritrea to allow a visit by the Special Rapporteur so she could assess the situation on the ground.  Others commented on the politicization of human rights and the sanctions imposed on Eritrea.

Ms. KEETHARUTH underlined the international community’s valuable and important role in improving the human rights situation by keeping Eritrea on its agenda and monitoring violations.  She also requested invitations to interview Eritrean refugees residing in other countries and assess their situation.  She asked Member States to protect refugees and ensure they were not subjected to refoulement.  On concrete measures to improve the human rights situation, she said small steps were welcome, noting that Eritreans needed to see that they could rely on institutions to claim their rights and feel secure that they could defend their rights without being arrested.  Indefinite national service must be abolished and independent media outlets supported, she emphasized, stressing also the need for the unconditional and immediate release of all prisoners of conscience.

Turning to regional human rights mechanisms, she cited the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights while noting Eritrea’s failure to implement two of its decisions.  Implementing the Commission’s decisions on the “G-15” dissident politicians and on the journalists arrested in 2001, who reportedly had disappeared, as well as reporting on regional mechanism could be another step towards cooperation with international human rights mechanisms, she said, adding that inviting regional rapporteurs to Eritrea could also be perceived as a sign of good will.

Also participating in the dialogue were representatives of the United States, Switzerland, Australia, European Union delegation, Norway, Djibouti, Sudan and Cuba.

CHALOKA BEYANI, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, introduced his report (document A/68/225) and detailed the country visits he had made.  On Sudan, he said, challenges remained to improving basic living conditions and implementing lasting solutions within the Doha Framework Agreement in the areas visited.  Relevant actors should seize opportunities to work towards such solutions on an inclusive basis, and the Government should ratify the Kampala Convention and adopt implementing legislation as soon as possible.

During a follow-up mission to Georgia, he said, he had visited communities displaced in the 1990s and in 2008, recommending that the Government take an integrated approach to addressing their needs.  The Government was taking steps towards that end by revising its law on the subject, he said, adding that he saw a window of opportunity to find durable solutions for the internally displaced in Serbia and Kosovo.  Upcoming visits were scheduled for later this year to South Sudan and Sri Lanka, he said, adding that since delivering his last report, he had requested visits to Bangladesh, Colombia, Haiti, Myanmar, Philippines and Syria, among others.

He said that, on the basis of a comprehensive desk review, he had submitted a report on the dire situation of the displaced within Syria in terms of safety, basic rights and livelihoods.  It contained recommendations for strengthening international response, including considerations to guide durable solutions to internal displacement.  A country visit was anticipated once suitable dates were agreed, he said, before detailing his collaboration with regional and international organizations.

“It is fundamental to recognize the need for a paradigm shift which addresses displacement not only as a humanitarian concern, but also as a development and peacebuilding challenge in the period after armed conflict,” he said, noting that he would make durable solutions a priority during the second term of his mandate.  Although primary responsibility for delivering durable solutions lay with States, it required leadership and accountability from national, local and international actors, he emphasized.  The report made recommendations intended for affected States, donor States and the international community, and were based on the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the relevant aspects of the Kampala Convention, the IASC Framework on Durable Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons and the Secretary-General’s framework on ending displacement in the aftermath of conflict.

Stressing the need for early, participatory and joint planning in support of durable solutions, hand for ensuring the engagement of local authorities, he urged the international community to integrate such solutions into strategic plans and frameworks. In closing, he said the post-2015 development agenda must benefit people, including internally displaced persons living in fragile States, and serve as a foundation for increasing their resilience to crisis, including through human rights-based displacement solutions.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, delegates asked about examples of successful cooperation between humanitarian and development actors, while others enquired about how to protect vulnerable groups such as displaced women and girls.  Other questions related to data collection, local integration and impediments to the return of internally displaced persons, as well as the humanitarian implications of militarization.

Mr. BEYANI, replying to questions about collaboration between humanitarian and development actors, stressed the need to establish integrated country-level clusters involving both types of actors.  Referring to a deferred visit to Syria, he clarified that he had received a communication from that country’s Government, saying the February 2012 visit date was no longer appropriate.  Efforts had been made to reschedule the visit to mid-March, but the United Nations security team had advised against going due to security concerns.  However, agreement had been reached with the Syrian authorities that the visit would take place next February.   Once it occurred, such tasks as collecting data and establishing dialogue with the Government and other partners would be accomplished, he said.

For the better protection of internally displaced women and children, it was important to assess the needs of specific groups, he said.  In Côte d’Ivoire, many displaced girls who had fallen pregnant were not willing to return to their home communities because of the stigma attached to under-age pregnancy.  There was a need to respond to such specific cases, he stressed, noting that Georgia offered a good example of catering to women’s specific needs by providing special shelters.

Citing impediments to the return of displaced persons, he said origin communities neither provided a safe environment nor guaranteed their livelihoods.  Property disputes were also a problem.  Local integration was a solution when the displaced did not wish to return home.

Participating in the discussion were the speakers representing Canada, Syria, Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Serbia, Georgia, European Union delegation, United States, International Organization for Migration, Russian Federation and Austria.

EMMANUEL DECAUX, Chair of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, introduced that body’s report (document A/68/56), in accordance with the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.  Adopted by the General Assembly on 20 December 2006, the Convention entered into force on 23 December 2010.  There were now 40 States parties to the instrument, the most recent ratification having come from Guinea‑Bissau on 24 September, he said, underlining the importance of achieving universality.

Welcoming national reports submitted by Uruguay and France, he said the Committee needed to examine others that had already been submitted or were forthcoming.  To avoid delays, it would use innovative working methods, such as the online “papersmart” system and webcasting to achieve its goals with limited resources.  However, the upcoming November session might have to be conducted without such working methods, he cautioned.  On the Committee’s relationship with the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, he emphasized that the two bodies complemented each other and were working to avoid overlap.  It was also imperative that they avoid sending contradictory messages.  If the Working Group visited a country, his Committee would take the outcome into account rather than making a duplicate effort, he said.

ARIEL DULITZKY, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, described enforced disappearance as a “technique of terror”.  It was a crime against humanity, as recognized by the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and by other international agreements.  The Working Group had registered cases from 84 countries on all continents, he said, noting that, for more than 30 years now, the Working Group had been mandated by States to act as a humanitarian “channel of communication” between Governments and families, with a view to ascertaining the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared.  Since that inevitably raised differences of opinion, at times causing discomfort to some States, the Working Group always tried to point out challenges fairly and objectively, and to acknowledge progress where it existed, he said.

The Working Group currently had more than 42,000 individual cases of enforced disappearances pending, he said.  “Each case represents a unique person, with a name, a date of birth, a particular story,” he said, adding that each was “a synonym of failure” for Governments and for the Working Group.  Even with such high numbers, the under-reporting of disappearance cases in all regions of the world, particularly Africa, was a big problem.  Behind it lay fear of reprisals, ineffective reporting channels, restrictions on the work of civil society and, unfortunately, a lack of awareness about the Working Group and its mandate.  Another problem was that courageous people mobilizing against enforced disappearances lacked adequate funds.

States had demonstrated that it was possible to secure the right to know the truth through truth commissions, judicial investigations and national plans to search for the disappeared.  Nevertheless, significant challenges remained as far as the right to truth was concerned, since it could often involve complicated and costly tasks such as exhuming and identifying thousands of victims.  The international community needed to think more about how to help countries in transition that were willing to undertake that task but lacked sufficient financial resources or technical capabilities.  The Working Group was dissatisfied with the lack of progress in institutionalizing basic principles and guidelines seeking to establish the fate and whereabouts of victims, he said.

He went on to say that the Working Group’s role as a special procedure of the Human Rights Council required it to provide “credible and human rights-friendly alternatives” to combat and eradicate enforced disappearances and to develop studies and general comments that would facilitate greater understanding of the phenomenon.  In 2013, it had adopted two General Comments — one on women affected by enforced disappearances, where a gender perspective was applied to the phenomenon and another on children and enforced disappearances — in which the 1992 Declaration on Enforced Disappearance was read in light of evolving international law in that area.  Its last annual report was devoted to new trends in the field of reparations, he said.  The Working Group needed enough resources in order to keep the promise of the United Nations to the disappeared, he said, calling on States and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to ensure that the Working Group was able to fulfil its duties.

In the interactive dialogue following those two presentations, delegates asked about measures to encourage States to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, efforts to raise awareness of the Convention and about avoiding delay in the examination of reports.  Other delegates asked about the implications of DNA-related discoveries in tracing victims of enforced disappearance, the gender dimension of the phenomenon and the role of civil society in combating violations.

Mr. DECAUX began with awareness-raising activities targeting civil society, citing an informative brochure on the Convention produced by Amnesty International.  In addition, a regional seminar had been organized, in partnership with the International Organization of la Francophonie (OIF), and would be held in Tunis later this year, in which an Observer from the African Union would participate.  On the time required to examine national reports submitted to the Committee, he said “the report is like a health check-up of the country and is the starting point of the work to be done.”  The Committee worked hard to respond to reports as quickly as possible, but two or three reports could not be considered in the limited time allocated to its work, he said, calling for additional time allocation in order to be able to consider more reports.

Mr. DULITZKY said “enforced disappearances are not crimes of the past and we need new strategies to respond to them.”  On the violation’s gender perspective, he emphasized that it was included in all the Working Group’s work, especially when dealing with children who were victims because their parents had been victims of enforced disappearance.  Regarding DNA, he welcomed its use to identify victims, but stressed: “First we need to find the bodies.”  In conclusion he made two appeals: for the Committee and the Working Group to work in a complementary fashion — on the evaluation of national reports and the required follow up, for example — and that countries deal effectively with enforced disappearances by formulating measureable policies.

Speakers taking the floor during the interactive dialogue included representatives of Argentina, France, Lithuania, Poland, European Union delegation, Mexico, Spain and Germany.

The Committee then heard the introduction of seven draft resolutions relating to social development, the advancement of women, the promotion and protection of the rights of children, crime prevention and criminal justice, and international drug control.

Introduction of Drafts

The representatives of Senegal and Mongolia introduced draft resolutions on “Policies and programmes involving youth” (document A/C.3/68/L.10) and “Literacy for life: shaping future agendas” (document A/C.3/68/L.12), respectively.

The representative of Indonesia then presented a draft on “Violence against women migrant workers” (document A/C.3/68/L.22).

The representatives of Malawi, Canada and Zambia then submitted draft resolutions on “The girl child” (document A/C.3/68/L.27), and representatives of Canada and Zambia another on “Child, early and forced marriage” (document A/C.3/68/L.29), respectively.

The representative of Italy then introduced a draft on “Strengthening the United Nations crime prevention and criminal justice programme, in particular its technical cooperation capacity” (document A/C.3/68/L.18).

Finally, the representative of Mexico presented a text on “International cooperation against the world drug problem” (document A/C.3/68/L.19).

Action on Draft Resolutions

The Committee then took action on a draft resolution relating to the advancement of women, approving the text on the “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women” (document A/C.3/68/L.23) without a vote.

The representative of the United States said the Obama Administration was a strong supporter of the Convention, despite disagreement on some points.

Presentation of Reports and Interactive Dialogue

FARIDA SHAHEED, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, said her 2013 report (document A/68/296) addressed the writing and teaching of history, especially in divided and post-conflict societies, focusing particularly on history textbooks.  The report was the first of two consecutive studies she had undertaken on historical and memorial narratives, she said, adding that it sought to identify circumstances under which the historical narrative promoted by the State in schools became problematic from a human rights perspective.  The second report, to be submitted to the Human Rights Council in March, focused on memorials and museums, and would tackle the wider processes involved in the collective memorialisation undertaken by governmental as well as non-governmental actors.  On the one hand, she noted, people constantly strove to retrieve their own history, validate it, make it known and have it acknowledged by others, while contesting dominant interpretations on the other, she said.  All too often, a cultural rights-based approach to transitional justice and reconciliation strategies was not accorded the attention it deserved.

In too many places around the world, the historical narratives promoted by State in schools were problematic from a human rights perspective, she said.  In promoting nationalist political agendas and/or monolithic viewpoints of dominant Powers, education policies relating to the teaching of history failed to acknowledge cultural diversity and the multiplicity of historical narratives among and within communities.  It was time to declare explicitly that such policies were at odds with the rights to education, access to cultural heritage, freedom of opinion and expression, and information.  They depended on unjustified restrictions on academic freedom and on the promotion of a single history textbook.  In the most acute cases of conflict, such policies could be seen as either the continuation of war in the area of culture and education, or as a means to prepare for revenge in the future, she said, adding that they constituted worrying obstacles to peacemaking and peacebuilding.

Since the past constantly informed the present, history was continuously interpreted by a multiplicity of actors to fulfil contemporary objectives, she continued.  The challenge was to distinguish the legitimate continuous reinterpretation of the past from politically motivated manipulations of history.  History textbooks deserved particular attention because they required the presentation of extensive data in a very limited space, obliging authors to carry out rigorous data selection and, in the case of elementary grades, to express themselves in just a few sentences.  That constraint made textbooks for younger children a particularly effective — and thus dangerous — tool for promoting ideological messages, she said.  The reports recommendations included: ensuring an appropriate ratio among local, national, regional and global history; ensuring the availability of a wide array of history textbooks for selection by teachers, and enabling the latter to use supplementary teaching materials; raising awareness of manipulations and refraining from encouraging such abuse; and ensuring the continuous education and professional training of history teachers, who were pivotal to the promotion of a human rights perspective.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, delegates asked how to overcome stereotypes arising from old conflicts, and about the objectivity of the report.

Ms. SHAHEED, noting that the history of every State had a dark side, said teaching history should help facilitate reconciliation.  Germany and France had managed to come up with a single textbook, she pointed out, noting, however, that there were fewer such initiatives in East Asia.  History should be taught from multiple perspectives, she said.  Emphasizing that she had no intention of falsifying history, she cautioned that the same facts could be interpreted in different ways.  The victim and the perpetrator might both agree on what had happened, but they might not agree on what it meant to each other.  The purpose of teaching history was not to promote division, but peace and unity.  History was not as simple as those who had endured occupation and those who had had enforced it.  Further examination showed that even in a colonized country, there were those who collaborated with the other side, she said, stressing the importance of reviewing national policies on the formulation and selection of history textbooks so that children could hear multiple narratives and develop critical thinking.

Participating in the interactive dialogue were representatives of the European Union delegation, Russian Federation, Brazil and Cuba.

FRANÇOIS CRÉPEAU, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, presented his report (document A/68/283) saying it provided a brief overview of recent developments relating to global migration governance, both inside and outside the United Nations, as well as the creation of the Global Forum on Migration and Development and the Global Migration Group.  Due to the lack of a comprehensive framework, he said, global migration governance remained somewhat fragmented, with different institutional approaches and normative frameworks relating to specific aspects, such as the human rights of migrants, the smuggling of migrants, trafficking of refugees and asylum-seekers, and labour migration.

He said there was neither a migration organization within the United Nations, nor a coherent institutional framework governing migration, nor a lead agency with a comprehensive mandate on migration.  States continued their attempts to govern migration largely on a unilateral basis, which had led to a lack of coherence between global, regional and national governance.  A retreat from binding United Nations-based frameworks had resulted in State preferences for informal processes, several of which lacked transparency and accountability, and which might have a negative impact on human rights.

The report further looked at migration governance at the regional, bilateral and national levels, he continued.  It used the European Union as an example of how, even with a high level of integration, individual Member States continued to retain the jurisdiction to decide on the number of migrants they wished to admit.  More governance did not mean giving up sovereignty, he emphasized, adding that it actually gave States greater control, which simply meant improving coordination and cooperation between States, leading to greater respect for human rights.  That would also help them fight the exploitation of migrants.

Migrants currently crossed borders irregularly, without regard for State policy and largely in response to unrecognized labour needs in destination States, he said.  If States would recognize such labour needs and open more regular migration channels while sanctioning unscrupulous employers, that would lead to fewer abuses of migrants.  A strengthened institutional framework for that purpose should be based inside the United Nations and must have the human rights of migrants as one of its key priorities, he stressed.  The report presented possible future models, including the possibility of moving the International Organization for Migration inside the United Nations with a revised, protection-based constitution.

One key recommendation was to hold regular high-level dialogues every three years, he continued.  They should be action- and interaction–oriented, each with a rights-based negotiated outcome document.  Turning to his 2013 report to the Human Rights Council, he said he had decided to undertake a thematic study on the management of external borders in the European Union and its impact on the human rights of migrants.  Despite a number of important advances, the bloc still viewed irregular migration largely as a security concern that must be stopped.  Investment in security had not been matched by investment in adequate protections for the human rights of migrants, he said, adding that the tragic incidents occurring in the Mediterranean over the past few weeks showed the relevance of the discussion.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, delegates asked about the fight against racism and xenophobia, the integration of migrants’ rights into the post-2015 development framework and in the international arena, and the importance of the Global Forum on Migration.  Others delegates asked about the Special Rapporteur’s proposal to integrate IOM into the United Nations system and about regional initiatives to address migration issues.

Mr. CRÉPEAU called on Member States to continue the fight against racism and xenophobia at the national level, and to establish policies recognizing the value of diversity.  Recognizing the difficulties posed by strong anti-migrant sentiments in some countries, he recommended making efforts to educate the population on the collective wealth generated by migrants.  On the integration of migration into the post-2015 development framework, he said a “human rights mainstreaming mechanism” would be the way to ensure that, but it was important to empower migrants so as to ensure the efficient protection and promotion of their rights.  “Migrants don’t vote; they are absent from the political stage and rarely mobilize complaints; they are legally and politically invisible because they fear arrest, detention and deportation,” he said.  That must be changed by providing migrants with the means to defend their rights, and by ensuring they had access to independent courts and decision-makers with no electoral agenda.

On the Global Forum on Migration, he said it had proven to be a trust-building forum for migration discussions.  Regarding overlapping mandates in connection with his proposal to include IOM in the United Nations system and related budgetary considerations, he said many of the Organization’s agencies had overlap.  “[The United Nations Children’s Fund] deals with issues related to children, but [the World Health Organization] addresses children’s health,” he pointed out, describing it not as duplication, but rather as cooperation.  On the importance of regional migration governance, he said that free movement of capital, goods and workers was important, but expressed concern over the limited accountability of regional cooperation forums.  “These discussions need to be out there and need to be done with migrants themselves,” he said.

Participating in the interactive dialogue were representatives of the European Union delegation, Mexico, Angola, Russian Federation, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Qatar.

IBRAHIM SALAMA, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), spoke on behalf of ABDELHAMID EL JAMRI, Chair of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.  Introduced the Committee’s report (document A/68/48), he noted with concern that since the related Convention’s entry into force in 2003, ratification had been slow.  For that reason, the Committee was working to “shine a light on migrants’ conditions, showing their systemic and permanent discrimination”, he said.  Recalling the recent tragedy off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy, he asked how many more people needed to die before States responded to migrant issues which affected over 240 million human beings.

The continued increase in international migration, he said, rose from the desire of people from developing countries seeking better opportunities and living conditions in developed countries.  However, data showed that migrants had positive impacts on both origin and destination countries.  Cognizant that many conventions addressed issues of human rights, he pointed out that the relevant convention was the only one directly addressing the rights of migrants.  However, time restrictions were jeopardizing the work of the Committee in their examinations of country reports submitted to them.  Therefore, it requested an additional meeting to be added to increase deliverance. 

On strengthening the treaty bodies, he said that the Committee was revising its working methods and that it had met the co-facilitators of the intergovernmental process to discuss that issue.  “Systems should be financed properly to fulfil their mandate”, he also stated.  He reiterated, in his closing remarks, the Committee’s availability to cooperate with all States interested in ratifying the Convention, and he applauded the progress made so far in the promotion and protection of labour migrants’ rights.

TOMÁS OJEA QUINTANA, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, introduced his report (document A/68/397).  He said the ceasefire agreements between the Government of Myanmar and 13 ethnic armed groups were significant in that they offered the prospect of a national ceasefire accord in November.  That would be a starting point from which to build a culture of acceptance and tolerance, while helping pave the way for national reconciliation.  For the ceasefire to be sustainable and the process to start addressing underlying grievances, negotiations must become more inclusive and transparent, he emphasized, noting that until now, “the voices of women, local villagers, internally displaced persons and refugees outside the country have not been heard”.  There should also be more attention to monitoring the implementation of agreements, including humanitarian access to areas not under Government control.

Noting that a number of prisoners of conscience remained behind bars, he commended the President of Myanmar for his pledge to release all political prisoners by the end of the year, and voiced the hope that the release would include the four international non-governmental organization workers still detained in Buthidaung Prison as well as Dr. Tun Aung and U Kyaw Hla Aung.  While the development of a freer media and public space in which people could express their views had been an important feature of the reform process, freedom of expression, assembly and association continued to be affected by “a controlling military mindset”.  Key pieces of draft and current legislation must be amended to allow the development of a society in which people were free to exercise their rights.

He went on to note that Rakhine State remained in a situation of “profound crisis”.  The underlying issue of discrimination against Muslim, and particularly Rohingya, populations remained unaddressed and was reflected in a policy of segregating Muslim communities that was increasingly permanent.  While there appeared to be a greater willingness by the Government to address the situation, serious concerns remained over impunity.  Allegations of gross violations since last June’s the violence, including by State security personnel, also remained unaddressed.  The situation in Rakhine State had fed a wider anti-Muslim narrative that posed one of the most serious threats to the reform process, he warned, calling for accountability measures to tackle the spread of religious hatred and violence.

In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of Myanmar said that although the Special Rapporteur acknowledged some improvements, he failed to provide enough space in his report for numerous measures taken by the Government in addressing human rights issues.  A wise saying held that “the optimist sees the doughnut, the pessimist sees the hole”, he said, expressing regret that the Special Rapporteur was blaming the doughnut for its hole.  “At the critical time of democratic transition, no country is immune from challenges, he said, noting that Myanmar had gone through unfortunate communal violence in Rakhine State, sparked by a brutal crime.  Regretfully, it had caused loss of life and property to both communities in the conflict, he added.

Describing the assessment of the situation as “unbalanced and one-sided”, he said the Special Rapporteur’s had conveniently failed to mention the serious action taken by the Government.  It had been able to restore stability in Rakhine State and elsewhere immediately after the outbreak of violence, despite the limited capacity of local police forces.  Those arrested included a large number of Buddhists, he noted, adding that the wrongful portrayal of the communal clashes as religious violence had caused it to spread elsewhere.  There was no two-child policy and the politicization of human rights should not be allowed to continue, he stressed.  This was not the time to expand monitoring on the situation of the country.  “On the contrary, it is now about time to say goodbye to the Special Rapporteur’s mandate on Myanmar, which has stretched already over 20 years.”

Many delegates pressed Myanmar to further improve its human rights situation, with some asking about the progress made, if any, towards the release of prisoners of conscience, amendment of the country’s peaceful assembly law, and how the international community could help in bringing Myanmar’s national laws into line with global standards.  They also asked the Special Rapporteur to provide an update on the proposed establishment of a country office of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and to explain how it would complement his mandate.

Mr. QUINTANA said the level of interest shown today by Member States clearly attested to the value of his mandate.  Regarding Rakhine State, he said segregation was becoming permanent, adding that all of its people should be allowed to move freely within the state.  Although the provision of food and shelter to those in need was improving, issues of access to health and education persisted.  The two-child policy no longer existed, and there was no prospect of reviewing the citizenship law.

Turning to accountability, he said its absence under the military regime had been problematic.  A national ceasefire agreement was symbolically important for the people mired in decades of fighting, but as part of national reconciliation, constitutional reform should get more prominent attention in 2014 since it would be a first step to include the voices of the people, including refugees and internally displaced persons.  Some States were helping Myanmar bilaterally in the area of the rule of law, he said, adding that the international community could invest in that area because the rule of law was not well understood there.

Participating in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Australia, United States, Canada, Republic of Korea, European Union delegation, Japan, Thailand, Liechtenstein, Albania, Qatar, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Russian Federation, China, Argentina, Norway, Maldives and Indonesia.

* *** *

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