8 November 2016
Seventy-first Session, 46th Meeting (PM)

Third Committee Takes Up 7 Draft Resolutions on Situations in Syria, Iran, Crimea as It Concludes Discussion of Human Rights Council's Report

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this afternoon to introduce seven draft resolutions, including on tackling the human rights situations in Syria and Iran, as well as on measures to eliminate female genital mutilation.

The draft resolution on the situation of human rights in Syria, introduced by Qatar’s representative, would have the General Assembly express its outrage at the escalation of violence in the country, demand that the Syrian regime and so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) immediately cease the use of chemical weapons, request additional measures for stringent verification to ensure the complete destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons and call for a restoration of the cessation of hostilities.

Following the introduction, Syria’s delegate said the text contained inaccuracies and lies, and that its sponsors had used the Third Committee for their own political ends.  It was paradox that Saudi Arabia had sponsored the draft resolution given its alleged involvement in terrorist activities, he said, asking if that Government was ready to comply with the relevant paragraphs of the draft resolution.

A draft on the human rights situation in Iran, introduced by Canada’s representative, would have the Assembly call on Iran to ensure that no one was subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.  It would urge that Government to cease enforced disappearances and the widespread and systematic use of arbitrary detention.  It also would strongly urge Iran to eliminate, in law and practice, all forms of discrimination and other human rights violations against women and girls.

Iran’s representative called the draft “insincere”, stressing that it only deepened mistrust.  Iran did not deserve such a biased resolution, he said, noting that its sponsors had used human rights as leverage.  Canada had shown no sincere willingness to engage in addressing the flaws in the proposed resolution.

A draft resolution on the human rights situation in Crimea and Sevastopol, introduced by Ukraine’s representative, would have the Assembly urge the Russian Federation to comply with its obligations under international law as an occupying Power.

Responding to that introduction, the representative of the Russian Federation urged the Committee not to support the “purely political” resolution when it was put to a vote, as it went beyond the Committee’s scope and was the wrong approach.  In his reply, Ukraine’s representative accused the Russian Federation of living in a “parallel reality”.

Other draft resolutions introduced today addressed the elimination of female genital mutilation, extreme poverty, the death penalty, and the Declaration on the right to peace, with the latter two introduced by the representatives of Mongolia and Cuba, respectively.

The representatives of Burkina Faso and Peru, introducing the draft resolutions on, respectively, female genital mutilation and extreme poverty, stressed that those texts broadly aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and drew attention to the inter-related nature of human rights and development.

Also today, the Committee concluded its general debate on the report of the Human Rights Council, with delegates reiterating their support for the Universal Periodic Review and expressing concern about politicization in the Council’s other work areas, including those of its Special Procedures.  Latvia’s representative expressed her concern about increasing racism and reprisals against human rights defenders, emphasizing that the Council’s workload continued to increase.

Also delivering statements during the general debate were representatives of Namibia, Iraq, Colombia, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, South Africa, Eritrea, Botswana, Cuba and India.

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

Introduction of Draft Resolutions

Under the Committee’s agenda item on the advancement of women, Burkina Faso’s representative, speaking on behalf of the African Group, introduced a draft resolution entitled “Intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilation” (document A/C.3/71/L.15), expressing hope it would be adopted with significant support, as had been done previously.

Three draft resolutions were then introduced under the agenda item on the promotion and protection of human rights:  human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.  First, the representative of Peru introduced a text entitled “Human Rights and Extreme Poverty” (document A/C.3/71/L.22), followed by Mongolia’s representative, who introduced a text entitled “Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty” (document A/C.3/71/L.27), and Cuba’s representative, who introduced a text entitled, “Declaration on the Right to Peace” (document A/C.3/71/L.29).

Next, three draft resolutions were introduced under the agenda item on the promotion and protection of human rights:  human rights situations and reports of Special Rapporteurs and Representatives.  The first, entitled “Situation of Human Rights in the Syrian Arab Republic” was introduced by Qatar’s representative (document A/C.3/71/L.24).

Following the introduction, Syria’s delegate objected to the draft’s inaccuracies and lies, questioning why Saudi Arabia, which was not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, had co-sponsored the text.  He said that certain delegations had used the Third Committee to serve their political ends, contravening the Charter of the United Nations and international law.  He recalled that Saudi Arabia had itself supported terrorist organizations throughout the world and applied pressure on the Secretary-General that had amounted to “political blackmail”.  Also, Qatar was in no position to speak of defending human rights, he said, especially as its citizens did not have the right to vote and power lay in the hands of one family.  Finally, the draft did not reflect the position of non-Aligned countries.

The second, introduced by the representative of Canada, was entitled, “Situation of Human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran” (document A/C.3/71/L.25).

Following the introduction, the representative of Iran said his country had been singled out because it had not caved to external political pressure.  He expressed regret and concern that the biased draft resolution before the Committee undermined the credibility of the United Nations.  It was high time for Canada to quit its political show and address its own human rights issues with respect to indigenous people and discrimination against black people in its criminal justice system.  Finally, he expressed regret that Canada had shown no sincere willingness to engage in addressing the flaws in the proposed resolution.

The third and final draft, introduced by the representative of Ukraine, was entitled, “Situation of Human Rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol” (document A/C.3/71/L.26).

The representative of the Russian Federation then took the floor, urging all delegations to vote against the draft.  The text went beyond the Committee’s mandate, he said, and was one-sided.  Further, it ignored the negative impact of Ukraine’s actions on residents of Crimea, including its maritime blockade.  It also did not mention war crimes and other violations committed by Ukrainian authorities, which had been documented by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), including detentions, torture, cruel and inhumane treatment, sexual violence, kidnapping and forced disappearance, threats, arbitrary detention and others.

Right of Reply

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Ukraine observed that it was not the first time the Committee had heard ridiculous accusations from the Russian delegate, who he said lived in “a twisted parallel reality”.  He asked why the Russian Federation had objected to opening Crimea to international monitors if the situation there was so rosy.


LINDA SCOTT (Namibia) shared the concerns about the lack of resources available for the work of the Human Rights Council, and noted with interest the Council’s public advocacy initiatives that had been carried out at the international and regional levels.  Despite a number of challenges, she welcomed efforts undertaken to strengthen and enhance the functioning of the human rights treaty body process, urging that capacity building comply with international human rights obligations.

Mr. AL-HUSSAINI (Iraq) said his country had worked to implement the principles of human rights and democracy at the national level, and to ensure that national legislation was aligned with international treaties and conventions.  Iraq continued to work to combat terrorism in various forums.  Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) was terrorizing civilians and recruiting children to be soldiers, as well as using civilians as human shields.  They also had prevented civilians from exiting combat areas.  States must work together to combat those groups.

MIGUEL CAMILO RUIZ BLANCO (Colombia) underlined the cross-cutting nature of human rights within the United Nations system and the international community.  States must continue rationalizing the number of resolutions adopted, and spend more time making the best use of capacities at national levels.  Colombia was a strong defender of the Council’s achievements and its work towards ensuring protection and respect for human rights.  Controversies were an inherent part of dialogue in the Human Rights Council, and the international community should not be afraid of differences in that work.  They enriched discussion and allowed progression to consensus-based agreements which promoted human rights for all without distinction.

AMIRBEK ZHEMENEY (Kazakhstan) noted that the tenth anniversary of the Human Rights Council had taken place at a time of heightened international tension and instability, armed conflicts, grave humanitarian crises and terrorist attacks.  Turning to national achievements, he underlined Kazakhstan’s dedication to children’s and women’s rights.  Growing polarization in the Council’s work was cause for concern, and mandate holders visiting countries must avoid duplicating work done by treaty bodies when assessing the ground situation.  Efforts to rationalize the Council’s work should be State-led and voluntary.

ACHSANUL HABIB (Indonesia) said constructive dialogue and cooperation were essential to protecting and promoting human rights without distinction.  Enhanced international cooperation should be achieved through ensuring non-selectivity, impartiality, and equal focus, while avoiding double standards, polarization and politicization.  Calling on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner to re-evaluate its working methods and monitoring mechanisms, he said dialogue was particularly important when considering issues that had not been universally or internationally recognized, or those involving different socio-cultural, religious, norms, values, and morality.  All parties must increase their willingness to listen to each other, he stressed.

Ms. MXAKATO-DISEKO (South Africa) said it was worrisome that while the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action — adopted at the 1993 Third World Conference on Human Rights — reaffirmed the importance of ensuring universality, objectivity and non-selectivity, the Council still struggled in that area.  The lack of adherence and respect for the outcome of the Council’s review was concerning, as it had led to a credibility deficit and governance challenges.  South Africa would continue to focus on the elaboration of complementary standards to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, as well as an international legally binding framework to regulate the activities of private military and security companies.  It would also work to rectify the legal status of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and elaborate a legally binding normative framework to regulate the human rights activities of transnational corporations.  She expressed concern about attempts to unilaterally and prematurely review the Council and the Universal Periodic Review, outside of the agreed framework.  South Africa could not over-emphasize the need to rebuild and repair the ruptured trust in the Council resulting from its politicization.

NEBIL SAID IDRIS (Eritrea) recalled that the General Assembly had established the Human Rights Council to tackle the problem of political manipulation in the now defunct Commission on Human Rights.  Thus, the Council’s success hinged on its adherence to the principles of impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity.  Although the Council had been established to enhance international dialogue, confrontation was becoming a bigger part of its work, as certain countries sought to impose their values on others.  International cooperation was needed to provide equal treatment of two international covenants:  those pertaining to civil and political rights, and to social and economic rights.  He advocated funding OHCHR from the United Nations regular budget to help stem politicization in the Council due to its reliance on voluntary funds.

Ms. KARIMDOOST (Iran) said she supported the Universal Periodic Review, which took a cooperative, rather than a confrontational, approach to human rights.  Despite the existence of such cooperative and functional mechanisms, certain countries had persisted in their confrontational policies.  She recommended that those driving resolutions against Iran stop naming and shamming.  The Human Rights Council, guided by the Charter, should maintain its fairness, impartiality and respect for different values and cultures, and refrain from imposing a different lifestyle on others.  The Council also should focus more on the threat of violent extremism.

Ms. ZALITE (Latvia), associating herself with the European Union, said her Government would oppose any attempts to challenge the institutional status of the Human Rights Council.  Increasing polarization and attempts to filibuster its work were concerning.  For its part, Latvia was engaged in efforts to improve the Council’s efficiency through the promotion of information and communications technologies.  She expressed concern about reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society organizations, pledging her country’s full support to the Special Procedures.

Ms. MAUTLE (Botswana) expressed support for the universal periodic review, as well as hope that there would be more focus on the implementation of recommendations made in its first two cycles and that technical cooperation and capacity-building would be forthcoming for those States that had requested assistance.  Botswana had submitted its midterm review in February, with an update on steps taken to implement accepted recommendations, including the establishment of a national human rights institution.  In the context of today’s humanitarian crisis, the Council must remain a neutral voice representing the most vulnerable, she said, noting that impediments to the body’s work in addressing the situation in Syria were a glaring example of how political interests could “blight the consciousness of humanity to do the right thing”.  Similarly, challenging thematic resolutions on issues such as sexual orientation and gender identity had brought unnecessary division and polarization to the Council because of lack of consideration to the unique development, social and cultural conditions of individual countries.

LUIS AMORÓS NÚÑEZ (Cuba), recalling that the Human Rights Council was an attempt to address the failures of the Human Rights Commission, said its trend toward imposing double standards was a concern.  The Council must be saved.  Its universal periodic review distinguished it from the Commission.  He underlined the importance for mandate holders to abide by the Code of Conduct, urging an end to unilateral coercive measures.  Cuba’s draft resolution on the right to peace, which had been submitted a moment ago, emphasized that peace should be recognized as a right for all.

MAYANK JOSHI (India) said the universal periodic review had had remarkable success in encouraging States to recognize and resolve gaps in human rights protection.  It had emerged as the most constructive process, accepted and valued by all Member States, and had to be continually strengthened.  However, the human rights agenda appeared to be turning increasingly contentious.  A more constructive, non-confrontational approach, sensitive to countries’ genuine concerns and capacity constraints, was needed to help them carry out the agenda among their citizens.  An aggressive “naming and shaming” exercise was often counter-productive as it tended to divide States into opposing camps.  The primacy of national efforts, along with consideration for the values and other specific contexts of individual countries, must guide their efforts.  The international community must take an unequivocal position against terrorism to prevent the destruction of human rights, freedoms and democracy.

For information media. Not an official record.