Acting on the recommendation of its General Committee, the General Assembly adopted the work programme and agenda for its seventy-third session today, deciding to include the item “Situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine”, and for the second consecutive year, the item “The Responsibility to Protect and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”.
The Assembly, which had before it the General Committee’s first report (document A/73/250), also endorsed the recommendation that its general debate be held from 25 to 29 September and that its Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) complete its work by 14 December.
By a recorded vote of 93 in favour to 16 against, with 17 abstentions, the Assembly voted to continue its discussions on the responsibility to protect, although several delegations took the floor to air their concerns — as they did last year — about formally adding the item to the agenda.
Ammar al Arsan (Syria) said that, while it is necessary to discuss the issue in unofficial meetings, it is premature to include it in the Assembly’s formal agenda. Thus far, the Assembly has not been able to establish a common basis for rules that could prevent an abuse of the responsibility to protect. Countries have destabilized and invaded other smaller countries, such as Libya and Yemen, using the pretext of the responsibility to protect to promote their own interests, he stressed.
Echoing that sentiment, Indira Guardia Gonzalez (Cuba) said the issue is of great concern for small developing countries like his as it could easily be abused. But, without clarity on its scope and implementation, and the serious differences among Member States, now is not the time for the Assembly to include it. The responsibility to protect is a noble end, she said, however there is a double standard that is being hidden under a humanitarian veil.
Wilmer Alfonzo Méndez Graterol (Venezuela) said the inclusion of the item would impede consensus and drive a wedge between Member States. Inclusion of the responsibility to protect would undermine the sovereignty of States and it could lead to confused or interested interpretations, or double standards.
Those voting in favour focused on the urgency of protecting civilians, with Jorge Dotta (Uruguay) expressing concern that the defence of civilian populations is not a priority of some States. The General Assembly has the obligation to address the issue and to debate the mechanisms to prevent these atrocities from happening.
Ib Petersen (Denmark) said the aim of the debate on the item is to build bridges, not increase the divide, and to contribute to the prevention of genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Delegates were also divided over whether to discuss the situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, opting in the end to include the item by a recorded vote of 68 in favour to 13 against, with 48 abstentions.
Those opposed said the matter is being politicized, with Alina Julia Argüello González (Nicaragua) stressing that the only recognized format for resolving the situation in Ukraine is Security Council resolution 2202 (2015), which makes no reference to the term “occupation”.
Maxim V. Musikhin (Russian Federation) said the item’s inclusion on the Assembly’s work programme is the latest escapade devised by Kyiv which reflected an arbitrary interpretation of events and was proposed only to sow discord. The conflict should be resolved by peaceful means, he said, citing the package of measures for implementing the Minsk Agreement, as set out in resolution 2202 (2015). Kyiv’s intentions are to create conflict and get international assistance in doing so, while removing any of its own responsibility, he said. Rather than helping relieve the population’s suffering, it will only serve to exacerbate the situation on the ground.
Ali Nasimfar (Iran) added that the Assembly should not engage in a debate that has already been decided on by the Security Council and that introducing the item will only undermine the recognized framework for settling the matter.
Expressing support for the item Volodymyr Yelchenko (Ukraine) said that the occupation of Ukraine persists and debating the issue in the Assembly will positively impact the search for peace, which must continue until the territorial integrity of Ukraine is fully restored. Ukraine is committed to a pacific resolution, but the occupying Power remains unwilling to stop fuelling conflict in the region.
Several speakers expressed concern about human rights violations, with Jan Kickert (Austria), also speaking on behalf of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, calling for human rights observers to be granted full access to the area immediately to investigate alleged abuses.
Gillian Bird (Australia) noted that the conflict has killed thousands of people and displaced 1.6 million people in the past four and half years, placing a colossal burden on Ukraine and its neighbour.
Other topics to be considered during the session include those titled: “The role of the international community in the prevention of the radiation threat in Central Asia”; “Space as a driver of sustainable development”; “Complete withdrawal of foreign military forces from the territory of the Republic of Moldova”; “Request for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the consequences of legal obligations of States under different sources of international law with respect to immunities of Heads of State and Government and other senior officials”; “Protection of persons in the event of disasters”; “Strengthening and promoting the international treaty framework”; “Further practical measures for the prevention of an arms race in outer space”; “Universal Declaration on the Achievement of a Nuclear-Weapons-Free World”; and “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons”.
Under organizational, administrative and other matters, the Assembly also included the following items: “Cooperation between the United Nations and the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL)”; “Cooperation between the United Nations and the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea”; “Impact of rapid technological change on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals”; “Observer status for the New Development Bank in the General Assembly”; “Observer status for the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea in the General Assembly”; “Observer status for the European Public Law Organization in the General Assembly”; and “Observer status for the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in the General Assembly”; and “Observer status for the International Think Tank for Landlocked Developing Countries in the General Assembly”.
The Question of the Comorian Island of Mayotte was included on the understanding that it would not be considered. The Assembly deferred consideration on the Question of the Malagasy islands of Glorieuses, Juan de Nova, Europa and Bassas da India to its seventy-fourth session.
Consideration of the item “Safeguarding ocean space for present and future generations” was deferred to a future session.
The Assembly decided that the delegations of the Holy See and the State of Palestine would participate in the seventy-third session as observer States, and that the European Union would participate in the work of the session as an observer.
During approval of agenda items concerning maintenance of international peace and security, Armenia’s representative disassociated herself from consensus on the inclusion of item 41 in the agenda.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Kyrgyzstan, Iran, India, Italy, Qatar, China, Guyana, Singapore, Egypt, Ecuador and Indonesia.