Women and girls with disabilities face grave violations of sexual and reproductive rights, including forced abortions and sterilizations, Catalina Devandas, Special Rapporteur on the topic, told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, as delegates engaged her and other mandate holders on how best to promote and protect human rights.
Across the board, she said, the rights and needs of persons with disabilities must be integrated into health care services. She expressed concern over the growing number of treatments that have not been proven effective or are controversial, such as the extension of limbs and “packing” of children with autism. Many are invasive, irreversible and painful.
Compared with the rest of the population, she said people with disabilities face higher risks of having an accident, falling victim to violence and suffering from chronic disease. But they still can live healthy, productive and long lives. Gaps in their enjoyment of that right are due in part to State inaction, stigma and discrimination.
Along similar lines, Ikwonposa Ero, Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of Human Rights by Persons with Albinism, said persons with that condition are among those who are left furthest behind. The highest priority must be accorded to persons with albinism in sub-Saharan Africa as they are routinely exposed to witchcraft‑related harmful practices. Nearly all victims of such attacks are poor, making access to justice, remedies and social welfare schemes vital.
The deaths of 44 reporters were among the many attacks on the freedom of opinion and expression that has made 2018 a difficult year thus far, said David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of that right. The situation is dire, amid repeated attacks on the media by the President of the United States; Nicaragua’s repression of dissenting voices; and attempts by Iran and the Russian Federation to shut down the popular messaging site Telegram.
“The repression of expression is repression of democracy and rule of law,” he declared. “I cannot urge you strongly enough to take steps to reverse and resist this trend,” notably by implementing the Human Rights Council resolution on the safety of journalists. To back high-level pledges with limited implementation is “a recipe for cynicism”.
Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, added that denying such rights only increases the pathways to violent extremism. Respect for pluralism, on the other hand, enhances resilience. Vigilance is needed to protect all people from violence, he said, urging States to pursue evidence-based policies that meet their human rights obligations.
Also presenting reports today were Theresia Degener, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with disabilities; and Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights.
The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 23 October, to continue its consideration of promotion and protection of human rights.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) met today to continue its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights. For more information, please see Press Release GA/SHC/4235.
Persons with Disabilities
THERESIA DEGENER, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, focused on three areas: the continuous promotion of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, matters related to the human rights treaty body strengthening process, and ongoing work on General Comments. Since she last briefed the Committee, Libya and Ireland have ratified the Convention, bringing the number of States parties to 177. Somalia also signed the instrument on 2 October. Regarding treaty body strengthening, she said that the Committee continues to harmonize and strengthen its work methods to implement General Assembly resolution 68/268. Regarding partners, the Committee continues to benefit from the input and support of civil society, particularly persons with disabilities, and national human rights institutions.
Turning to the Committee’s work with the Human Rights Council, she said she participated in an annual debate focused on the Convention’s article 13 — access to justice — which is among the most fundamental human rights, as it concerns the right to legal capacity, a precondition for the exercise of other rights. Yet many persons with disabilities are denied the right because of their actual or perceived impairment. The Committee continues to work with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of persons with disabilities, notably in issuing joint press statements. Regarding promotion of the Convention, the Committee has challenged the legal concept of incapacity and started to banish it from modern international human rights law. With this, it has led the way for an inclusive concept of legal personhood that outlaws violence and forced treatment. As such, many countries have started to revise their legislation, advancing the right to equal recognition before the law, and she recognized Peru for adopting the first such legal capacity reform. Noting that the Committee also adopted General Comment No. 6, on equality and non‑discrimination, she reflected on her tenure as the only woman on the Committee to stress the need for a gender balance in its work, which would lend credibility to its call on States to do the same.
In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of Japan asked how to foster inclusive education, and about efforts the Committee can make to enhance participation.
The representative of Switzerland asked about how the digital age positively impacts health care and how to abolish discrimination in the health care system.
The representative of the European Union asked how States can mainstream rights for persons with disabilities in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and specifically into treaty bodies.
The representative of the United Kingdom welcomed the high level of collaboration among various bodies, drawing attention to the Global Disability Summit which his country co-hosted with Kenya and asking how States can be encouraged to develop programmes to help persons with disabilities find decent work.
The representative of Mexico enquired about the Committee’s efforts to ensure participation of persons with disabilities in politics, recognize the legal status of all such persons, and share good practices in implementing the Convention.
The representative of the Russian Federation said General Comments are views of experts that cannot place obligations on States, and as such, it is inappropriate for them to be used when examining a State’s periodic report.
Ms. DEGENER replied that the guidelines in General Comment 4, on article 24, outline measures to address segregated education. The right to education is particularly important for children with disabilities: efforts must be made to ensure mainstream education is accessible to all students. To ensure access to health, the first major step is preventing discrimination, including changing health care professionals’ attitude towards people with disabilities ‑ who should be perceived as rights holders. Further, the rights of people with disabilities to reject treatment must be respected, notably regarding mental healthcare.
She said the Global Disabilities Summit marked an important step towards implementing the Convention’s article 27. Replying to the Russian Federation’s delegate, she emphasized that, while General Comments are non-binding, they remain an authoritative statement of international law. The Convention is interpreted in line with jurisprudence and based on observations and dialogues with stakeholders.
CATALINA DEVANDAS AGUILAR, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, said the rights and needs of persons with disabilities must be integrated into health care services, notably by eliminating the barriers preventing access to primary and secondary health care, and implementing specialized services and programmes to address their specific needs. Compared with the rest of the population, people with disabilities face higher risks of having an accident, falling victim to violence and suffering from chronic diseases. Yet, they can live healthy, productive, active and long lives. Gaps in their enjoyment of a healthy life are due to the inaction of States, stigma, discrimination, lack of health care literacy, poverty and social exclusion.
She stressed the need to ensure people with disabilities have access to primary health care in a universal health care framework. It is wrong to assume people with disabilities only require specialized services or that their needs cannot be addressed because they are an inevitable consequence of their disabilities. Excessive reliance on specialized care can lead to erroneous diagnostics and treatments, the medicalization of disability and health care cost increases. Emphasizing that development and human rights must go hand-in-hand, she deplored the widespread denial of free and informed consent in the provision of mental health care and the grave violations of sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls, including forced abortions and sterilizations. She expressed concern about the increasing number of treatments and interventions that have not been proven effective or are controversial, such as the extension of limbs and “packing” of children with autism. Many of these interventions and treatments are invasive, irreversible and painful. It should therefore be prohibited to apply them to children or in an involuntary manner.
The representative of South Africa asked about public-private initiatives to address the needs of persons with disabilities.
The representative of Spain asked for recommendations on prioritizing the family needs of persons with disabilities.
The representative of Costa Rica expressed concern about non-consensual health care treatment which is a violation of the human rights of persons with disabilities.
The representative of the Republic of Korea, referring to unilateral sanctions, asked what the Security Council can do about the impacts of such measures on persons with disabilities in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The representative of the Russian Federation said some countries lack access to or the ability to finance technical equipment, asking for recommendations on assisting those countries in efforts to care for persons with disabilities.
The representative of Iraq, noting that persons with disabilities suffer daily discrimination, notably in accessing public education, asked about cooperation between the World Health Organization (WHO) so that women with disabilities can access health care without discrimination.
The representative of European Union said women with disabilities have less access than men, notably to reproductive health care, and are more likely suffer from violence. He asked how to respond to these challenges and how to prevent involuntary treatment and hospitalization.
The representative of Indonesia said the Government provides reproductive health to persons with disabilities, as well as preventive measures such as immunizations. She asked for details on how South-South cooperation could benefit persons with disabilities in the area of health.
The representative of New Zealand, urging that greater efforts be made to guarantee non-discriminatory health care, asked about the most important step to ensure accountability for violations to the right to health for persons with disabilities.
Also speaking in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Colombia, Australia, Brazil and Israel.
Ms. DEVANDAS replied that persons with disabilities are benefitting from new technologies, but their needs must be respected to ensure their participation in communities as active citizens. It is fundamental to recognize their right to provide free and informed consent on an equal basis with others. She pointed out that more than 30 countries have adopted, or are on the way to adopting, new legislation that recognizes legal capacity for people with disabilities. Support and training of medical personnel is crucial to ensure the will and preferences of persons with disabilities are respected.
Regarding the provision of health care to persons with disabilities, she acknowledged the financial limitations many developing or low-income countries face. In that context, South-South, triangular and international cooperation are essential to ensure people with disabilities receive all health care services on a human rights basis — not only objects of care, but also rights holders. She said her engagement with WHO has been fruitful and stressed the need for a system-wide information‑sharing approach to help States comply with the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.
IKWONPOSA ERO, Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of Human Rights by Persons with Albinism, said her mandate was created in 2015 and renewed this year to address reports of attacks — hate crimes — against persons with albinism. She spotlighted the regional action plan covering 2017 to 2021, endorsed by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, as a milestone, stressing that persons with albinism, while representing a relatively small segment of the global population, are disproportionately affected by poverty and discrimination based on disability and colour. They are often excluded from policies on health and education, and thus, among those who are left furthest behind. Member States and stakeholders should prioritize and fast-track affirmative action for persons with albinism in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals in national, regional and global follow-up and review processes.
She said highest priority must be given to persons with albinism in sub-Saharan Africa, citing witchcraft-related harmful practices. Countries with high sun exposure should address the threat of skin cancer as a public health issue. Noting the importance of disaggregated data on national population, she said Goal 1 (ending poverty) is essential for persons with albinism because nearly all victims of attack are poor. Access to justice, remedies and social welfare schemes is also vital. Citing Goals 3 (health), 4 (education), 5 (gender equality), 8 (employment and decent work), 10 (reducing inequalities) and 16 (peaceful societies and access to justice), she said measures addressing the needs of persons with albinism require funding specifically allocated from national budgets and the support of international cooperation. These allocations would be modest and affordable due to the low number of persons with albinism, but the return on these investments would be invaluable to respecting the human rights of persons with albinism.
The representative of Japan asked about lessons learned in addressing leprosy.
The representative of the European Union asked for best practices to ensure persons with albinism are consulted and participate in national development plans and policy.
The representative of Namibia welcomed the recommendation related to assisting persons albinism.
The representative of South Africa looked forward to hosting the Independent Expert and understanding how both interactions and institutional capacity can be strengthened.
The representative of Israel said the focus of the Independent Expert is critical and asked about the countries whose input would best serve her work in 2019.
Ms. ERO replied that international cooperation and support are indispensable, stressing that some of the millions of dollars allocated to prevent the extinction of endangered animals could be used to protect people with albinism. She spotlighted Kenya’s model, whereby funds were set aside, and an officer from a Government body dealing with disability issues was specifically put in charge of albinism. Laws protecting people with albinism already exist; implementation is the problem, and action plans can provide a remedy. To that end, disaggregated data is fundamental. She urged solidarity to address the needs of people with albinism.
Freedom of Religion, Belief
AHMED SHAHEED, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said that, amid legitimate demands to ensure public safety and national security, Governments have instituted stricter regulations on religious expression and the role of religion or belief, both online and offline. But States must fully discharge their obligation regarding the right to freedom of religion or belief and the other rights on which it relies, such as the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and association. Any distinction that nullifies or impairs the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms is unlawful unless based on objective and reasonable criteria. Furthermore, any restriction on the manifestation of religion or belief must fully comply with the limitations regime, notably by being subject to judicial oversight and access to remedy.
Initiatives driven by the security-oriented approach to religion have caused an alarming upsurge in rights violations, such as undue restrictions on the freedom of religion or belief. Denying that freedom increases the pathways to violent extremism, whereas respect for pluralism enhances societies’ resilience against violence. Pointing out that vigilant action is needed to protect all individuals from violence, he called on States to further research radicalization and pursue evidence-based policies that meet their human rights obligations.
When the floor opened for questions, the representative of the United States asked what more could be done to address the human rights crises in China.
The representative of the United Kingdom noted that £1 million were allocated for projects in Iraq, “Burma,” and Malaysia. He asked how the international community could work to together to promote freedom of belief and religion.
The representative of Romania asked about the role of education in combating violent extremism.
The representative of Bahrain said her Government strives to be an example of religious and cultural coexistence, reaffirming her support for upholding religious freedom.
The representative of Australia asked about best practices in building law enforcement capacity on religious belief and tolerance.
The representative of Poland asked about basic measures States can take to involve religious leaders in efforts to prevent radicalization and how to balance freedom of speech and hate speech.
The representative of the Netherlands asked about opportunities for States to engage religious leaders and faith-based actors.
The representative of the European Union said that strategies to prevent violent extremism can undermine the freedom of belief. He asked how States can reverse this trend and best combat violence and hatred.
The representative of the Russian Federation noted the links between the freedom of belief and violent extremism, expressing regret that the Special Rapporteur focused on violent extremism itself. Such issues should be discussed in another format as it is not included in the mandate.
The representative of Czechia noted the gender dimension of violent actions carried out in the name of tradition and religion. She asked about how to prevent these acts while taking into account cultural specifics, and about effective strategies.
The representative of Ireland asked for guidance on how to encourage the role of civil society.
The representative of Denmark, speaking on behalf of the Nordic and Baltic countries, noted the increasing number of persecuted people and asked about how to reverse this negative global trend.
The representative of Hungary stressed the importance of building inclusive societies in which marginalized groups are also empowered. On Christian minorities, she asked about how to ensure their freedom of belief and how States and leaders can work together.
The representative of Canada stressed support for creating open spaces for intra- and inter-dialogue. She asked how the freedom of religion and belief can be added peacebuilding efforts.
The representative of Norway said tolerance for difference strengthens society, rather than weakens it. Given the few numbers of women religious leaders, he asked how to involve women in fostering tolerance.
Also speaking in the dialogue were the representatives of Greece and China.
Mr. SHAHEED, to a question about difficult cases, said that what inspires confidence and promotes human rights is transparency. It is important to document violations, so a feasible remedy can be found. To the question on engaging with faith communities, he said the Faith for Rights framework outlines how to engage in that process, while the report on interfaith communication discusses how to be inclusive. It is critical to bring together all leaders and actors, a wide range that includes women in the conversation. Human Rights Council resolution 16/18 provides a holistic approach to training law enforcement to address hate crimes, economic inequality, and emerging tensions before they become problems. Six meetings of the Istanbul process were held in such efforts to determine which structures and approaches were most efficient. Almost two years later, he called on Member States to redouble efforts. Lastly, he has welcomed such investments in the freedom of belief as envoys appointed by Governments to look address issue.
Freedom of Opinion, Expression
DAVID KAYE, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said it has been a difficult year, citing among others the death of 44 reporters around the world; attacks by the President of the United States against the media as enemies of the people; Nicaragua’s repression of dissenting voices; and Iran and the Russian Federation’s attempt to shut down popular messaging site, Telegram. In digital space as well, Governments shut down network access, filter sites that offer opportunities for dissent and accurate news and use social media for propaganda and interference in foreign elections. “The repression of expression is repression of democracy and rule of law,” he said. “I cannot urge you strongly enough to take steps to reverse and resist this trend,” notably in implementing the normative measures the Human Rights Council adopted earlier this month in its resolution on the safety of journalists. The United Nations cannot continue with high-level commitments and limited implementation. “This is a recipe for cynicism about the work you do here”.
Amid such repression of freedom of opinion and expression, he said artificial intelligence technologies must be as transparent as possible so the control of fundamental rights is not lost to machines and the humans who control them. A lack of clarity about the extent and scope of artificial intelligence and algorithmic applications online prevent individuals from understanding how information is disseminated, restricted and targeted. Companies should therefore orient their standards, rules and system-design around universal human rights principles, and aggregate data illustrating trends in content display should be available for users to inspect. Failure to address and resolve artificial intelligence systems’ discriminatory elements will render the technology ineffective and dangerous. He urged companies and Governments to implement “radical transparency” measures ensuring that systems can be scrutinized and challenged from conception to implementation. As artificial intelligence must not invisibly affect an individual’s autonomy regarding their opinions and ideas, companies must ensure that users are fully informed about how algorithmic decision-making shapes their use of a platform, site or service. Artificial intelligence systems’ adverse impacts on human rights must be remedied by the companies responsible, he stressed.
When the floor opened for questions, the representative of the United States said the world is grappling with the impact of new technologies in the context of the freedom on the expression. Impunity must end for attacks on journalists and human rights defenders.
The representative of the European Union noted the worrying attempt to silence journalists, asking how States can best provide an enabling environment to address these challenges.
The representative of Switzerland said that given that the volume of online content, artificial intelligence filters can remove inappropriate and legal content. He asked how to overcome the tension between what constitutes “inappropriate” and that which constitutes “legal”.
The representative of Latvia, on behalf of the Nordic and Baltic countries, noting the increasing trend of propaganda. He asked how information and communications technology companies can better prevent discrimination.
The representative of Austria asked about steps that States can take to help citizens understand the human rights aspects of artificial intelligence.
The representative of France said it is crucial that human rights be protected offline as well as online. He asked for recommendations on closer exchange between States, enterprises and civil society.
The representative of the United Kingdom asked how to guarantee that any consent is genuinely and responsibly informed.
The representative of Mexico asked how States can help create a regulated framework for artificial intelligence use in the private sector.
The representative of Tajikistan noted that journalist Khayrullo Mirsaidov was no longer in jail. The Court annulled all the charges against him.
The representative of South Africa asked for clarification on how to best address the use of artificial intelligence under international laws governing cyberspace.
Also speaking in the dialogue were representatives of the Russian Federation, China, Turkey, Iran, Ukraine, Cuba.
Mr. KAYE said artificial intelligence is being developed in the private sector, but many States will be using it and they must understand its nature. Much of the research around artificial intelligence, and its tendency towards discrimination, has been done by think tanks and civil society, so they must be part of the discussions and able to engage. As the technologies that comprise artificial intelligence are opaque, it is critical that those developing such tools are as transparent as possible. A lack of human input would undermine expression and repress freedom of opinion without developers knowing it. A central question hinges on how those developing artificial intelligence can be transparent. Another question is around when individuals can claim recompense for a discriminatory attack. As people become immune to the content governing public spaces, there are questions about content being taken down, which impacts self-expression, and about whether legitimate or illegitimate content is being left online.
Foreign Debt, State Financial Obligations
JUAN PABLO BOHOSLAVSKY, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, said women carry most of the burden of austerity measures, fiscal consolidation and other economic reform policies. Instead of promoting their rights, these measures add to structural inequality and entrench discrimination against women. Overly restrictive macroeconomic targets and spending cuts have devastating consequences on human rights, he stressed.
Further, he said focus on monetized aspects of the economy has ignored the value of unpaid care work, which has greatly contributed to the economic system and absorbed the consequences of crises. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have adopted an instrumentalist gender agenda that focuses almost exclusively on growth. Yet, the issue of gender equality cannot be reduced to women’s labour force participation and should not be approached as a separate or emerging issue. The agenda of international financial institutions should be reshaped and bound by human rights considerations. It must also address the impact of prescribed macroeconomic policies, lending and technical assistance on women’s rights. While designing economic reforms, States should consider alternative policies to avoid, minimize and remedy adverse effects on women’s rights. Moreover, States and international financial institutions should recognize unpaid care and domestic work as valuable, notably by redistributing it from households to the public sector.