Experts stressed the need for preventive measures and accessible remedies to mitigate wide‑ranging challenges to human rights, the Sustainable Development Goals and global stability, as the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) held a series of interactive dialogues today.
Taye‑Brook Zerihoun, Assistant Secretary‑General for Political Affairs, told the Committee in introductory remarks that the United Nations was taking a system‑wide approach to promoting coherent and consistent electoral processes. Those efforts were in line with the Organization’s priority of conflict prevention, as properly conducted elections promoted peace and reconciliation.
Strengthening electoral processes also increased women’s participation in political institutions. He said the global average of women in the lower or single houses of parliament had nearly doubled since 1997, while also stressing that figures still fell short of international gender balance goals.
Surya Deva, Chairperson of the United Nations Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, called on States to help prevent human rights abuses in the business sector, highlighting efforts to improve regulatory frameworks in that regard. Rights holders were central to the entire remedy process and must be guaranteed access, affordability and adequacy of remedies.
Rights defenders, environmentalists, migrant workers, women, children and indigenous communities continued to suffer abuses linked to business activities, he said, making it essential that Governments and businesses work together to ensure effective remedies in cases where preventive efforts failed. Access to remedy should not be an afterthought, he said during the interactive discussion, and preventive remedies must be considered.
In the ensuing dialogue, several delegates expressed concern over the exclusion of rights holders from mechanisms to create remedies. The European Union’s delegate asked how individuals and communities could be empowered, while Norway’s representative inquired how victims could access judicial and non‑judicial remedies.
The United Nations human rights system was a resource for risk analysis and early warning, technical cooperation and guidance to States, said Hui Lu, Chief of the Intergovernmental Affairs, Outreach and Programme Support Section of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), presenting the Secretary‑General’s report on the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms when countering terrorism.
She stressed the Secretary‑General’s call for changes to global financial, economic and development policies, and reform of international trade and investment by integrating human rights and environmental protection. Implementing such recommendations would ensure equitable distribution of the benefits of development, she noted.
Obiora Okafor, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, urged Member States to pursue “preventive solidarity” strategies to combat the causes of inequality. A draft declaration on the right to international solidarity had been presented to the Human Rights Council and would deepen understanding of his mandate. The declaration would also help States achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, he assured.
Also briefing the Committee on the right to development today were Zamir Akram, Chair-rapporteur of the Working Group on the Right to Development; Saad Alfaragi, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development; and, Alfred‑Maurice de Zayas, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 18 October, to continue its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights.
The Third Committee met today to continue its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights. (For more information, please see Press Release GA/SHC/4204).
Introductory Remarks and Interactive Dialogues
TAYE‑BROOK ZERIHOUN, Assistant Secretary‑General for Political Affairs, said the United Nations had provided assistance in conducting elections to about one‑third of Member States. Such support, provided at the request of States, focused on technical assistance and strengthening of national electoral authorities. Responses to Member States were a system‑wide endeavour, he said, adding that coherence and consistency of election assistance was the priority. Beyond the United Nations system, progress had been made in developing the electoral capacity of regional and sub‑regional organizations.
Turning to women’s political participation, he said the global average of women in the lower or single houses of parliament had nearly doubled since 1997. While encouraging, figures still fell far short of the gender balance highlighted in the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, adopted at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women. Noting that conflict prevention was a priority for the United Nations, he said properly conducted elections could promote reconciliation and peaceful transitions. Efforts must emphasize the creation of environments conducive to credible electoral processes, he said, stressing that the Organization’s electoral support system was grounded in political impartiality and global expertise.
Alternative Approaches for Improving Enjoyment of Human Rights
HUI LU, Chief, Intergovernmental Affairs, Outreach and Programme Support Section, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), presented eight of a total of 15 reports concerning human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the enjoyment of rights and fundamental freedoms.
She said the Secretary‑General’s report on the impact of globalization and human rights (document A/72/132) summarized views received from Algeria, Argentina, Iraq, Madagascar, Morocco, the Philippines, Portugal, Senegal and Serbia. It identified common concerns such as migration, the activities of transnational corporations, corruption and the Sustainable Development Goals. The Secretary‑General’s report on the role of the Ombudsman, mediator and other national human rights institutions (document A/72/230) contained responses to a questionnaire about the roles and activities of those institutions and found that there was a lack of understanding about their functioning.
The Secretary‑General’s report on the right to development (document A/72/201), she said, recommended changes to global financial, economic and development policies, and reform of international trade and investment by integrating human rights and environmental protection in order to fairly distribute such benefits. On the issue of human rights and cultural diversity, the Secretary‑General’s report (document A/72/289) summarized information from States on the legal and policy frameworks to promote multiculturalism and tolerance, protecting at‑risk groups and cultural heritage. It recognized the critical role of civic and human rights education in that regard. However, there were human rights challenges in promoting the rights of national, ethnic, religious or linguistic minority groups, as reflected by the Secretary‑General’s report on the related Declaration (document A/72/219).
Turning to the Secretary‑General’s report on the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms when countering terrorism (document A/72/316), she said the United Nations human rights system was a resource for risk analysis and early warning, technical cooperation and guidance to States. Similarly, the Secretary‑General’s report on steps taken by States to fight intolerance (document A/72/381) underscored the need for more action to stem religious intolerance and highlighted the role of Governments and religious officials who spoke out against such acts. It also emphasized the importance of interfaith and intercultural dialogues. Lastly, the Secretary‑General’s report on the safety of journalists (document A/72/290) focused on the safety of women journalists and suggested ways to better ensure their safety through a gender‑sensitive approach. Measures suggested included drawing attention to the urgent need for systematic monitoring of rights violations.
In the ensuing dialogue, Egypt’s representative, on behalf of a cross‑regional group of countries consisting of Belarus, Russian Federation and all member States of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) except Albania, said the resolution establishing the mandate of the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was divisive. The imposition of controversial notions contradicted universality and would lead to polarization. The Human Rights Council, especially mandate‑holders, must respect sensitivities when exercising their mandates, he said, and attempts to impose values contradictory to Muslims would harm the promotion and protection of human rights.
The representative of Azerbaijan said it was among 16 countries which had contributed to a report, and two specific references had been made to Azerbaijan. The principle of equality before the law was always observed, and allegations against Azerbaijan were not supported by facts.
The representative of Egypt, speaking as chair of the African Group for the month of October, said his statement was not a formal engagement with the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The mandate lacked legitimacy, as its creation did not enjoy consensus since it had been established by an extremely slim margin, demonstrating a lack of consensus. Its introduction and imposition contradicted the fundamentals of universality. Last year, Member States had advised that they needed time to define how the mandate‑holder would operate. While the Human Rights Council had legality to create special procedures, the General Assembly still oversaw the mandates. Given the importance of respect for sovereignty, he reiterated the African Group’s opposition to the mandate and urged the United Nations to invest in authentic consensus, and ensure respect for national laws, customs and norms.
Ms. LU, responding, said to Azerbaijan’s delegate that due note had been taken of those views, and that she would revert to the delegation at a later time.
Right to International Solidarity
OBIORA OKAFOR, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, said the draft declaration on the right to international solidarity was at the centre of his mandate. The Human Rights Council had been presented with the “extraordinary document” that would deepen the understanding of international solidarity. The document’s utility was being assessed through a country visit to Cuba, with a report on that visit expected next year. He underscored the applicability of the draft declaration to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 17 on global partnerships. Attaining the Goals required all States to uphold human rights principles and build peaceful societies by revitalizing global partnerships, he noted.
Goal 17 recognized that new global partnerships must take into account emerging attitudes towards solidarity, he said. Efforts to bolster partnerships and solidarity must focus on empowering marginalized populations, he said, adding that “preventive solidarity” could help eliminate the causes of inequality around the world. The draft declaration included a vision of shared technological endeavours that would enable each State to fulfil human rights obligations. Mechanisms were also needed to ensure that trade targets were in line with human rights obligations, which would ensure inclusive participation and promote an international system that addressed the endemic causes of inequality. He encouraged all States to incorporate the vision of the draft declaration as they strove to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
In the ensuing discussion, Venezuela’s representative, on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, said international solidarity on human rights, including their protection and promotion, was a fundamental value, adding that solidarity was the highest expression of peace among States. Agreements had been made to achieve cooperation in the field of human rights for all and the rule of law, through enhancing cohesiveness.
The representative of Cuba noted that Mr. OKAFOR’s predecessor had visited Cuba, and expressed hope that the forthcoming report would address that visit. International solidarity should be a crucial tool in facing problems of a global nature, he said, reiterating Cuba’s full support.
The representative of Qatar thanked Mr. OKAFOR’s predecessor for having held regional consultations on the draft declaration on the right of peoples and individuals to international solidarity. International cooperation was not just about providing humanitarian assistance, and Qatar had made every effort to provide support to the former mandate‑holder by hosting regional consultations with representatives from the Middle East and North Africa.
The representative of Morocco underscored that the Moroccan Constitution promoted the principles of openness, mediation and dialogue. As the 2030 Agenda called for no one to be left behind, Morocco promoted South‑South cooperation based on the principle of international equality and respect for human rights, in conformity with the Paris principles. In the report, a preventive approach had been mentioned, and she asked the Independent Expert how States could implement preventive solidarity.
Mr. OKAFOR said in response to Morocco’s question that the main examples of preventive solidarity related to natural disasters and calamities around the world. One could also imagine preventive solidarity in areas like climate change or cooperation on migration issues.
Human rights and transnational corporations
SURYA DEVA, Chairperson of the United Nations Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, recalled that the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were structured on three pillars: State duty to protect human rights, corporate responsibility to respect human rights and access to remedy. His report focused on the “access to remedy” pillar and its definition under the Principles.
Rights defenders, environmentalists, migrant workers, women, children and indigenous communities continued to suffer abuses linked to business activities, he said, making it essential that Governments and businesses work together to ensure effective remedies in cases where preventive efforts failed. He welcomed State efforts to improve regulatory frameworks to address such violations, noting that 17 countries had adopted national action plans on business and human rights while 22 others were in the process of creating them.
The report underscored the need for remedies to be effective, he said. “Any process to remedy human rights harms should take rights holders and their sufferings seriously,” he said. The entire remedy process should be sensitive to their diverse experiences. Remedies should be accessible, affordable, adequate and timely, and rights holders seeking them should not fear victimization. They should be able to seek, obtain and enforce a “bouquet” of remedies. He described an “all roads to remedy” approach that understood “access to effective remedies” as a common thread running through all three pillars of the Principles. It also understood that such access required action by States, businesses, civil society and human rights defenders. Finally, it meant that effective remedies could be sought in diverse settings, such as consumer courts, labour tribunals and environmental courts.
The representative of Morocco welcomed the discussion of business and human rights as that matter was the focus of public opinion in her country. She asked if good practices to prevent human rights violations could be applied by small and medium enterprises that lacked the resources of large corporations.
The representative of South Africa requested information on how zero‑tolerance for impunity could be ensured.
The representative of the United States asked about the main takeaways that would emerge from the Working Group’s forum this year.
The representative of Cuba asked how national and international efforts could be consolidated into a global approach to assist victims of human rights violations.
The delegate of the European Union asked about measures that could be taken to empower individuals and communities to addresses abuses, and about the role civil society could play in addressing power imbalances between corporations and rights holders.
The representative of Mexico asked if international cooperation to improve reparation mechanisms helped to prevent human rights violations. He also asked what specific measures existed to grant victims access to reparation mechanisms, and to what extent arbitration procedures in cases against transnational corporations were effective.
The representative of Norway asked for information regarding the involvement of rights holders in access to judicial and non‑judicial remedies.
The representative of the United Kingdom asked if access to remedies could be a form of prevention.
The representative of the Russian Federation said rights holders “surprisingly” included human rights campaigners and said that protecting that group was not the responsibility of the Working Group.
The representative of Spain asked how to ensure that access to reparation did not create unreasonable expectations of remedies.
The representative of Cameroon called for greater awareness of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and asked what recommendations could be made to relevant organizations to contribute to social responsibility in business.
Mr. DEVA replied that enterprises had different capacities and resources, noting that small businesses were increasingly part of the global network of manufacturing, and were linked to big multilateral enterprises as well. On how the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights could make a contribution, he said States must show willingness to implement such measures, whereby impunity could be addressed. Regarding key takeaways from the Working Group forum, he said it would focus primarily on access to effective remedies, expressing hope that consensus would be achieved in that regard. Further guidance would also be provided on the “gender lens” of the Guiding Principles. Global and regional frameworks could be useful because some of the abuses were transnational in nature, he observed.
To a question on dispute settlement, he said a new project would offer recommendations on how victims could best access effective remedies. For example, affected communities could go after investors if there were legitimate needs in that context. He answered questions about State cooperation in terms of effective reparation under national action plans, noting that the Working Group highlighted that restitution and reparation had five elements, and that all should be addressed. There should be a proper balance between investors and affected communities, which should be able to seek remedies. Regarding prevention, he said the report highlighted that access to remedy should not be an afterthought, and that preventive remedies should be considered.
To a question about human rights defenders, he said the report focused on access to effective remedies and described them in that limited context. The Working Group collaborated with the High Commissioner’s Office, and if Member States sought advice from the Working Group, it would provide advice; that could be the way forward to provide awareness of the Guiding Principles.
Also participating in the discussion were representatives of Switzerland and Colombia, as well as a representative of the International Chamber of Commerce.
Right to Development
ZAMIR AKRAM, Chair‑rapporteur of the Working Group on the Right to Development, said his Group had held an interactive dialogue with numerous stakeholders, including United Nations system entities, to assess implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals from a “right to development perspective”. It had also discussed follow‑up to the report on standards for the implementation of that right, he said, citing document A/HRC/WG.2/17/2 in that regard. The Non‑Aligned Movement had prepared a draft set of standards, and the Working Group had continued consideration of the draft right to development criteria and corresponding operational sub‑criteria. In Geneva in September, the Working Group had held informal consultations aiming to advance the elaboration of criteria and the set of standards for implementation of the right to development.
He said the Human Rights Council had adopted resolution 36/9 endorsing the Working Group’s recommendations and encouraging all Member States to engage constructively for the full implementation of the Declaration on the Right to Development. The resolution had further recognized the need for independent perspectives to strengthen the Working Group’s activities, and had encouraged relevant United Nations bodies to consider the right to development in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. At its next meeting, the Working Group would hold an interactive discussion with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development, he said, noting that the consensus represented by the Sustainable Development Goals should help resolve differing views around the right to development.
The representative of Venezuela, speaking on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, urged Member States and relevant United Nations bodies, international financial and trade institutions to mainstream the right to development in their policies.
The representative of Iran underscored the dire need to demonstrate global political commitment to implement the right to development.
The representative of the European Union emphasized that the right to development was one owed by States to their citizens, noting that the bloc was ready to contribute to discussions on the topic.
The representative of South Africa expressed concern over the lack of political will and commitment to implement the right of development, asking what roles transnational organizations and business could play to foster implementation.
The representative of Indonesia said strong political commitment and cooperation was required to fulfil the right to development.
The representative of India asked the Working Group how it could change the perception of the right to development to be a primary and fundamental right.
The representative of Eritrea said the North‑South development gap continued to grow and many people continued to live in poverty. He underscored the need to eliminate sanctions, transform financial structures and enhance international partnerships to ensure that the right to development was fulfilled.
Also speaking were representatives of Pakistan and Morocco.
Mr. AKRAM, replied that the Working Group’s idea for cooperation with other mandate‑holders was a valuable suggestion, adding that the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development was already a valuable partner. To comments on how other Human Rights Council bodies could contribute, he said the right to development had always been recognized as an inalienable right. As all rights were interrelated and indivisible, there was obviously relevance in the other Council mechanisms to the activities of the Working Group. To make progress, he said the first step was to agree on common ground. That might be modest in its initial phases, but since the goal was a common one, both developed and developing countries must find ways to implement the right to development and he advocated building on existing consensus. There were numerous similarities between the Declaration on the Right to Development and the Sustainable Development Goals, he said.
SAAD ALFARARGI, Special Rapporteur on the right to development, said that right was far from being universally recognized more than 30 years after the adoption of the Declaration on the Right to Development. Pledging to ensure that the right to development and human rights were recognized as integral to the sustainable development discourse, he outlined three focus areas during his mandate.
First, he would focus on removing structural obstacles, such as politicization, and low engagement of United Nations agencies and civil society in fulfilling the right to development. In that context, he would assess national and international development policies, and provide recommendations that would foster financing for development. Second, he would seek dialogue and consultations with States and stakeholders to identify and promote good practices and benchmarks, and in so doing, assess, measure and qualitatively compare those practices. Also, the Human Rights Council had requested that he hold consultations at the regional level on implementation of the right to development.
Finally, he would explore practical measures and make recommendations on how to realize the right to development at the national and international levels in the context of the 2030 Agenda. While he was encouraged by the reaction of delegates and civil society towards his vision, he said he was aware of the complexities and sensitivities surrounding the debate.
The representative of Egypt, on behalf of the African Group, said the right to development had always been high on the agenda of the African continent, citing its recognition in the African Youth Charter. He welcomed the normative framework setting the basis for the right to development, and the Special Rapporteur’s mode of work. Long‑term progress towards realizing the right to development required a favourable economic environment. Development facilitated the enjoyment of all human rights, he said, stressing that States had a duty to cooperate with each other.
The representative of Morocco said the right to development was far from being fully implemented. Development, as opposed to economic growth, could reflect the actual success of human development. He invited the Special Rapporteur to continue his consultations with the Working Group and to interact with other relevant special mandate holders, asking how his office expected to overcome the practical divergences on conceptual aspects of the right to development.
The representative of China said that to fully realize the right to development, the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter should be strictly abided by, and the imbalance in development between the global North and the South should be rectified. United Nations human rights organs should prioritize the promotion of the right to development and exert greater efforts to realize that right throughout the world.
The representative of Iran said political will from certain developed countries was lacking to make the right to development a reality for all. He encouraged the Special Rapporteur to work more closely with the Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures.
The representative of the Russian Federation said development was a driving force of the concept of human rights as a whole, and an important condition for ensuring human rights. Efforts must be made to overcome tensions linked to uneven global development. Without sufficient development, it was impossible to fully avail oneself of human rights.
The representative of Cuba said the politicization of human rights issues had negatively impacted many countries’ efforts to eradicate poverty. He asked Special Procedures mandate‑holders to speak about key elements which developed countries should observe to realize the right to development.
The representative of India said the normative human rights framework continued to evolve, adding that the right to development could assist in developing a sustainable future for all. In an interdependent world, there was no contradiction between the right to development at the individual and international levels. He asked the Special Rapporteur whether there was a roadmap for developing benchmarks to compare best practices on the right to development.
Mr. ALFARAGI, responding, underscored his awareness of the complexities surrounding the debate on the right to development. The Declaration, which had been adopted by a great majority, outlined that all were entitled to participate in the economic, social and cultural dimensions of development. The right to development ‑ and all human rights ‑ were recognized as an integral to the sustainable development discourse. Yet, advocacy was weakening and efforts were being made to elevate the right to development. He proposed regional consultations as well as the collection of ideas and opinions on aspects of his mandate. On the relation of his mandate to that of the Working Group, he said the complementarity of the system was important. To a question over whether to have a protocol, he said he was not pushing in any one direction, but was simply collecting Member States’ reactions. Regarding good practices, he said he was trying to apply what Member States had agreed, and noted that he had relations with civil society and academia.
Also participating in the interactive discussion were representatives of the United States, South Africa and Maldives.
Promotion of Democratic and Equitable International Order
ALFRED-MAURICE DE ZAYAS, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, presented his sixth and final report, calling for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to amend their articles of agreement to better serve the purposes and principles of the United Nations. Noting that some of their activities had come into conflict with the Organization’s human rights and development goals, he said it was time for the General Assembly to propose practical measures to bring those two entities on board. While Article 103 of the Charter stated that its provisions should prevail over all other treaties and international agreements, international financial institutions were not subordinate to the United Nations in structure and practice. IMF should “abandon its misguided prioritization of economic growth above all other considerations”, he stated.
He went on to say that the strict and selective loan conditions imposed by IMF, such as rapid economic growth in States, discouraged long‑term investments in public health and education while the lack of global consensus on sovereign debt restructuring meant that States could not pay back loans. The World Bank and the IMF should adopt smart lending practices that would benefit everyone and not just banks and speculators. Further, IMF should introduce loan conditions, including the adoption of legislation to prevent corruption and a moratorium on military expenditure for the duration of the loan. In addition, IMF could contribute to initiatives aimed at strengthening international tax cooperation, helping States to develop capacities to tackle illicit financial flows, supporting sustainable pension systems and providing technical assistance to States in tax legislation and anti-avoidance rules. Stressing the need to recognize the human rights dimension in lending, he said “no international financial institution, no transnational corporation and no trade agreement is above international law. All must respect the overarching international human rights regime.”
The representative of Morocco asked the Independent Expert to elaborate on his suggestion for reforms regarding the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The representative of South Africa asked how to ensure international financial institutions were held accountable where conditionalities led to a denial of basic human rights.
The representative of Cuba thanked the Independent Expert for his contributions, and noted that his mandate had recently been renewed by the Human Rights Council. Cuba would continue to work with the next mandate‑holder for the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order.
The representative of Maldives said structural adjustment programmes had not improved people’s welfare, and asked how international financial institutions could help small States, particularly those facing risks from climate change.
Mr. DE ZAYAS, responding, said that his report to the Human Rights Council included a table of relevant reports by his colleagues, such as the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty, on adequate housing, on foreign debt, and many others who all had pragmatic, implementable recommendations. As for amending the articles of agreement of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, he said the World Bank should do away with the interpretation of Article 4, Section 10, which considered human rights “political activities”. Human rights, health and environmental assessments should be carried out systematically before any loan was approved, whether to a Government or to a project which might have negative consequences. There was a possibility that the IMF could request advisory opinions. Human rights and the impact of loan conditionalities on human rights was a legal question that could be addressed by the International Court of Justice.
To a question on how Member States could best ensure that the IMF worked for development, he said IMF and World Bank members could use their muscle there. Responding to the question from the Maldives, he said structural adjustment was a term that would seldom be found in IMF publications because the Fund had rebranded it as poverty reduction and growth. The core principles had not changed: the commitment to privatization and the reduction of social services, as well as reduction in numbers of civil servants remained. He said civil society had done excellent work in that field, citing Human Rights Watch studies on the IMF and the World Bank, and noting that Oxfam had published a study titled “Great Expectations.” By way of farewell, he urged Government lawyers to translate international commitments into action. Naming and shaming was doomed to fail when the party doing the naming lacked moral authority and had “skeletons in the closet”. Mandate‑holders must have the courage to break the silence on taboo subjects, he said, adding that rapporteurs should not be guardians of the status-quo nor “fig leaves” for the international community. Indeed, the international community should rewrite the spirituality of the universal declaration of human rights.