25 October 2018
Seventy-third Session, 33rd & 34th Meetings (AM & PM)

First United Nations Expert on Sexual Orientation Presents Inaugural Human Rights Report to Third Committee, as Others Tackle Justice, Environment Concerns

Right Not to Be Arbitrarily Deprived of Life Universally Recognized, ‘Applies at All Times’, Says Special Rapporteur

Thousands of trans and gender-diverse persons are subjected to levels of violence that “offend the human conscience”, the first United Nations expert on the topic told the Third Committee today, as delegates engaged with mandate holders on the promotion and protection of human rights.

In his inaugural presentation, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Independent Expert on the protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, who took up his mandate 1 January, said thousands of trans and gender-diverse persons have been killed in recent years.  In some countries, the life expectancy of a trans woman is only 35 years, he said, meaning that at age 17, she is middle-aged, and at 23, nearing the end of her life.

Describing this as “the tip of a horrifying iceberg”, he said a lack of reporting and data collection, itself stemming from transphobia, has meant an enormous amount of information is unknown about these communities.  Bureaucratic approaches that lack “rhyme or reason” only exacerbate the risk of violence and discrimination, notably when the name, sex or gender details in official documents do not match a person’s appearance.

Moreover, when Governments do recognize the gender identity of trans persons, they often impose arbitrary and abusive requirements, he said:  medical certification, surgery, treatment, sterilization or divorce among them.  States’ non-recognition of trans and gender-diverse persons has created a “legal vacuum”, violating the right to equal recognition before the law, and in turn, the rights to health, education and housing.

And yet, Governments have the power to end such ordeals, he said, urging them to eliminate the conception of gender as pathology.  They should instead design and conduct public education campaigns — including on anti-bullying and sexual education — and formulate education policies addressing harmful social and cultural bias, misconceptions and prejudice.  “These measures cannot be postponed”, he asserted.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegates expressed concern about discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, with Albania’s representative voicing regret that more than 70 countries still criminalize sexual orientation.  Colombia’ delegate advocated measures to fight such abuse, while Costa Rica’s delegate pointed to measures adopted this year that allow people to change their names through a simple administrative procedure.

Also today, David R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, said that every four seconds, a human’s life ends prematurely because of exposure to pollution and other environmental hazards, amounting to 800 deaths per hour.  It is “beyond debate” that people are wholly dependent on a healthy environment to lead healthy lives.  While 100 countries have enshrined the right to live in a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment in their constitutions, the murder of over 200 environmental defenders annually demands a response.  He called on the United Nations to urgently fill “the glaring gap in the human rights system”.

A similar point could be made about exposure to toxins, added Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes.  Exposure to toxic pollution is estimated to be the largest source of premature death in the developing world, killing more people than HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.  Ongoing negotiations to develop the post-2020 global framework on toxic chemicals and wastes are necessary and can advance the Sustainable Development Goal targets that require a reduction in toxic exposure.

Also briefing the Committee today were Fabian Savioli, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence; Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions; and Ruddy José Flores Monterrey, Chair-Rapporteur of the open-ended intergovernmental working group on a United Nations declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas.

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


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and 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.

Justice, Reparations

FABIAN OMAR SAVIOLI, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence, outlined the priorities that will guide his cooperation with the General Assembly.  Regarding transitional justice, prevention and peacebuilding, he stressed that institutional reforms will not guarantee non-recurrence if they do not go hand-in-hand with initiatives involving society and individuals.  Further, there is a need to make the best use of young people’s abilities, as they tend to be excluded from debates and processes related to transitional justice.  Marginalizing youth only jeopardizes peacebuilding and renders the fight against violent extremism futile.  It is concerning that young people lack knowledge regarding violations of human rights that took place in their own countries.  Education curricula should be reformed because the role of memory is fundamental to break the cycle of violence.

Transitional justice initiatives must enhance their gender perspective, he said, drawing attention to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s General Comment No. 30, which deals with the role played by women prior to, during and after conflicts.  Women’s active and full participation and leadership in transitional justice is essential for these processes to be successful.  He also underscored the links between human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals in transitional justice contexts.  Often, the violations of social, economic and cultural rights either take place in the context of conflicts, or stem from them.  In the past, truth commissions only broached civil and political rights.  This is no longer possible:  failure to resolve violations of economic, social and cultural rights hinders lasting solutions and jeopardizes transitional justice processes.

In the ensuing debate, the representative of Argentina, noting the links between corruption and rights violations in the transitional justice process, asked about State accountability.

The representative of the Russian Federation said that while interesting, today’s topic goes beyond the Committee’s mandate and duplicates work.  Transitional justice should be discussed by the Security Council, she said, questioning the legal basis for such discussions today and cautioning against encroaching on the mandates of other bodies.

The representative of the European Union asked for methods for harnessing young people’s creative energy in the transitional justice process.  Women’s voices remain silent, limiting their role, and he asked how the Special Rapporteur will apply a gender perspective in his work.

The representative of Ireland, underscoring the need to promote reconciliation, asked for guidance so that States can best support the Special Rapporteur.

The representative of Switzerland, recalling that a disconnect can be seen on what is decided in New York and what can be realistically implemented, asked for information on involving young people in transitional justice processes, noting that they are rarely included.

Also speaking in the interactive dialogue were representatives of the United States and Syria.

Mr. SAVIOLI replied that all countries that go through transitional procedures should include memory and truth in their human rights plan.  Corruption might impede progress made by State bodies:  it violates several rights and affects the administration of justice, for instance.  Guatemala has established a significant procedure on that issue that States could use as an example.  Truth commissions are not in opposition to procedures that bring perpetrators to justice.  There is not a single model to be applied to all States, but rather, a variety of good practices.  States should therefore be provided with technical assistance to implement measures adequate for their situation.

Economic, social and cultural rights should not be considered less important components of human rights work.  No violation can be deemed to belong strictly to the category of political and civil rights.  Rights are interlinked, and their violation is a complex phenomenon.

He stressed that violent extremism and intolerance tend to take root in youth.  The lack of participation of youth transitional justice stands in contrast to the rights violations young people suffer.  It is a mistake for young people not to be fully involved in transitional justice.  States must explore ways to improve their participation and include human rights education in school curricula.

He pointed to the “incredible” discrepancy between, on the one hand, human rights violations suffered by women in situations that can lead to transitional justice and, on the other hand, women’s participation in transitional justice.  He emphasized that their role as agents of peace is absolutely necessary.  The idea that reconciliation is linked to impunity should be debunked, he added.  Reconciliation is the process through which society recovers trust in the State.

Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity

VICTOR MADRIGAL-BORLOZ, Independent Expert on the protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, said a non-governmental project documented 325 killings of trans and gender-diverse persons last year.  And yet, this is only the tip of a horrifying iceberg due to the lack of reporting and appropriate data collection, which is itself a result of transphobia.  Trans and gender-diverse people suffer violence and discrimination from their early lives:  often bullied at school, rejected by their families, pushed out onto the streets and denied access to legal employment.  Breaking these cycles of violence requires the resolve of the community of nations.  “These measures cannot be postponed,” he stated.  Bureaucratic and formalistic approaches exacerbate the risk of violence and discrimination, notably when the name and sex or gender details in official documents do not match trans persons’ appearance.  The vast majority of trans and gender-diverse persons do not, however, have access to gender recognition by the State ‑ a “legal vacuum” which fosters stigma and prejudice, and violates the right to equal recognition before the law.

States have the power to end the ordeal faced by trans and gender-diverse persons, he said, urging depathologization of trans identities ‑ the elimination of the conception of gender as pathology ‑ and legal recognition of gender identity without any abusive requirements.  The lack of recognition negates the identity of concerned persons, provoking a fundamental rupture of State obligations.  States should refrain from gathering and exhibiting data without a purpose and only do it on the basis of self-identification, privacy and confidentiality.  He recommended that States review medical classifications to eradicate the conception of some forms of gender as a pathology and ensure better access to quality health care.  They should also adopt strong proactive measures, such as education and sensitization campaigns, to eliminate social stigma associated with gender diversity.

The representative of Costa Rica said that this year his country “paid its debt” to the lesbian, gay, transgender and intersex communities by adopting several measures that allow, for example, people to change names through a simple administrative procedure and by removing gender identity from identification documents, thus promoting a fair and equitable society.

The representative of Sweden, speaking on behalf of the Nordic and Baltic countries, and noting that the lack of recognition of gender identity may lead to human rights violations, asked for more information about laws and best practices, as well as about how States can work with civil society, and combat violations against the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

The representative of Brazil, touching on the depathologization of certain forms of gender, such as transsexuality, said the Government offers the ability for people to change name through a simple procedure that does not require medical treatment or a court order.

The representative of Argentina, calling for an end to social stigmatization, drew attention to the link between gender recognition and ensuring corporal autonomy.  He asked about the biggest obstacle to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people exercising their rights.

The representative of the Netherlands asked about the link between recognition of gender identity and enjoyment of fundamental rights on a gender-specific basis.

The representative of Georgia enquired about children’s rights to identity and the optimal age for them to change their gender identity.

The representative of Colombia, noting the multi-dimensional nature of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, said that there is no legal title to exclude those communities and advocated measures to fight discrimination in the public and private spheres.

The representative of Spain asked for an initial assessment of the Special Rapporteur’s work in his first few months and about guidance for how States can support him.  He also asked about the Special Rapporteur’s opinion on a General Comment related to children’s gender identity, underscoring the importance of upholding 26 June as Gay Pride Day.

The representative of South Africa asked for details about the need to collect disaggregated data and about the challenges States face in collecting data in a gender-sensitive manner.

The representative of Mexico, noting that hate speech and discrimination are unacceptable, asked about the scope of depathologizataion in “transwork” and about ways to enhance cooperation in that context.

The representative of Iceland asked about the most common structural barriers lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people face, and how States can ensure effective measures.

The representative of the European Union, acknowledging that the concept of gender identity varies globally, asked about the impacts on society when recognition of gender identity is implemented in law and culture.

The representative of Albania expressed regret that more than 70 countries still criminalize sexual orientation.  Citing concerns about domestic violence against women, she drew attention to a national action plan and the important role of civil society.

The representative of France welcomed the depathologization of gender identity.  Yet, data depicts a grim picture of violence and he wondered about the most effective strategies for broadening the scope of decriminalization.

The representative of New Zealand said the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people does not require new rights, as human rights laws already exist.  Governments should offer support and opportunities for these communities.

The representative of Belgium said special attention to gender expression would benefit the fight to respect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.  On depathologization, he asked about the role of civil society in creating an environment for reform.

The representative of Slovenia, deploring hatred, prejudice, harassment and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, said some countries still criminalize these communities.  Recalling that human rights education is important for awareness raising, she asked for guidance on how best to address the exclusion of transgender people.

The representative of El Salvador, noting that discrimination and stigmatization have led to restrictions in such public services as education and health, said that to reduce inequality, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people must receive equal support.

The representative of Australia expressed concern about an uptick in violence around the world, recalling that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people must not be left behind, and welcoming the report’s point that gender and sex are not rigid.

The representative of Ireland, recalling that the country passed a gender recognition act allowing for new birth certificates, asked for best practices on how to involve all parties.

The representative of the United States asked about the steps taken by the Special Rapporteur to discuss with the Russian Federation violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Chechnya.

The representative of Uruguay, stressing the importance of awareness raising about gender identity, asked for details on recent country visits and about relevant challenges.

The representative of Canada urged States to address gaps in legal and policy frameworks, asking for examples of education and sensitization campaigns that have been effective in changing attitudes about gender identity.

The representative of the United Kingdom asked for more information on how to address the issue of political and religious leaders engaging in hate speech.

The representative of Germany, noting that depathologization is an important step towards improving rights protections, requested guidance on how best to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex human rights defenders who risk their lives advocating for these communities.

Mr. MADRIGAL-BORLOZ replied by recognizing that best practice comes from all over the world, a point reflected in his reports.  There is a fluidity to the topic and reports become outdated as new laws are passed, some as recently as last week.  Transitional justice is a dynamic area of international law.  Regarding challenges, he said the causes of criminalization persist, and States are hindering efforts to protect their citizens.  Decriminalization happens through legislation or changes in public policy.

Regarding mitigation, he noted that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities are everywhere, and negation is a fundamental way of disabling the State of its international duties.  He underscored his commitment to active listening, stressing that he does not wish to “colonize” people’s minds.  However, he gave a sense of the human dimension of the challenges faced by these communities, noting that in some countries, the life expectancy of a transgender woman is 35 years old, meaning that at age 17, she is middle-aged, and at 23, she is nearing the end of her life.

As for the role of civil society, he said effective measures cannot be created without the involvement of the affected communities.  There is an enormous amount that is unknown within these communities, and transgender communities, in particular, need support.  The shrinking public forums for their participation must be defended.  States have a fundamental duty to ensure progressive measures cannot be repealed.  Finally, he thanked Mozambique, Ukraine and Sri Lanka for having accepted his visits.

Summary, Arbitrary Executions

AGNES CALLAMARD, Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, said humanitarian action in the form of life-saving measures taken by private individuals can be traced back hundreds of years.  Time and again, people have felt compelled to act to save lives.  Such interventions are needed today:  to assist victims of conflict or those escaping war, persecution, climate degradation and poverty.  The right not to be arbitrarily deprived of life is a universally recognized one, applicable at all times and linked to economic, social and cultural rights.  When the State is not providing shelter, humanitarian actors are indispensable.  In armed conflict, international humanitarian law imposes an obligation to protect humanitarian actors from attack.  These lifesaving interventions are under threat, she asserted.

In various Security Council resolutions, Member States are required to apply measures to counter terrorism, she said.  Bans on funding to “terrorist” organizations, have imposed significant administrative burdens on non-governmental organizations.  States have a responsibility to counter terrorism but this cannot be achieved if the primary victims of the armed groups become victims of the measures to combat them.  To shield their countries from irregular migration, States are deterring humanitarian services for migrants at borders.  Third, the provision of humanitarian services to women and girls, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex populations, has been criminalized.  “The global gag rule” requires actors receiving assistance from the United States to certify they do not use their own non-United States funds to provide abortions, for example.  She recommended unlocking the current unacceptable encroachments on humanitarian action, pressing the Security Council to adopt resolutions exempting humanitarian actions from the scope of counter terrorism.  She urged States to replace shortfalls caused by “the global gab rule”.

The representative of the Russian Federation expressed concern that the Special Rapporteur focuses on topics tenuously linked to her mandate.  Given that there is no definition in modern international law of extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, there is no legal foundation underpinning them.  While States are responsible for protecting humanitarian workers, it is up to those workers themselves to respect the sovereignty and laws of the countries in which they work.  “We cannot agree with the conclusion on the need to ensure unimpeded access to non-state armed groups,” he said.

The representative of France, speaking also on behalf of Germany, said extrajudicial and arbitrary killings are grave human rights violations.  The lack of access to health care, especially contraceptives and prenatal services, is unacceptable, and he asked how to better protect those providing sexual health services.

The representative of New Zealand expressed concern over the denial of lifesaving services.  She urged that discriminatory health care laws be repealed, enquiring about the biggest obstacles that humanitarian organizations face in providing lifesaving care.

The representative of Iceland, stressing that the right to life is sacred and applicable at all times, advocated an investigation into the case of Jamal Khashoggi and asked the Special Rapporteur what such an inquiry should involve.  She also asked the Special Rapporteur to consider investigating the situation of humanitarian workers in Yemen.

The representative of Brazil highlighted the importance of humanitarian services for migrants, stressing that such assistance must not be criminalized and that measures must be adopted to better protect organizations and individuals providing lifesaving support.

The representative of the United States voiced regret that impunity for extrajudicial killings have become normal, listing Nicaragua, Philippines, Mali and Cameroon.  On the case of Jamal Khashoggi, the United States continues to seek all relevant facts, she said, stressing that it does not tolerate violence as a means to “silence Jamal” and asking about measures to reduce extrajudicial killings.

The representative of Iraq said his country uses capital punishment only for the gravest crimes and has no actual wish to maintain use of that practice.

The representative of Mexico said a gender approach must be taken when investigating extrajudicial killings.  Noting that Mexico’s criminal code makes femicide a crime and that a warning system is in place to ensure the safety of women and children, she asked about measures for tackling and preventing violence against women.

The representative of Saudi Arabia, denouncing the Special Rapporteur’s statement, said she must not exceed her mandate, adding he is not interested in her views.

The representative of Colombia, citing a report titled, “Saving Life is Not a Crime”, stressed the relevance of mechanisms for post-conflict situations in establishing the right to life.

Also speaking were representatives of Australia, El Salvador, Switzerland and the European Union.

Ms. CALLAMARD, in reply, said her report is firmly grounded in her legal analysis and that of her five predecessors.  The biggest obstacles are normative.  The world is moving in a direction that challenges the capacity to prevent arbitrary killings.  Killing in the name of social mores and counter-terrorism are being normalized.  That issue must not be seen as simply a threat to saving lives but also to the pillars of international law.  This is an extraordinarily important challenge that can be tackled by the Security Council and the General Assembly, she explained.

Efforts to prevent humanitarian actors from reaching Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh)-controlled areas, in turn, make those actors primary victims, she said, drawing attention to the complex dynamics that play out during conflict.  She pressed the Security Council or Secretary-General himself to make funding a priority.  To questions on how the United Nations can better work with humanitarian actors, she pointed delegates to her report, emphasizing that the normative and programmatic areas must be brought together.

Regarding Jamal Khashoggi, she said his killing fell within the scope of her mandate as an arbitrary killing.  Her appeals for an international investigation do not suggest that Turkey or Saudi Arabia do not have technical capacity to investigate.  Rather, as several countries are involved in those efforts, her appeals suggest that violence against journalists is a key priority.  An international investigation will go a long way in demonstrating that all such killings are unacceptable.  At a minimum, it must have a mandate to review the evidence from Turkey and Saudi Arabia.  Turkey’s collaboration is essential.  A team of video and audio experts will be required, as well as an autopsy specialist, if the body is found.  The first step involves making the evidence available to international experts.  More broadly, she remained deeply concerned by the largest human rights crisis — in the Philippines — and the absence of investigations into the vast numbers of police killings in context of that country’s war on drugs.


DAVID R. BOYD, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, said scientists have determined that human activity is exceeding the planetary limits that are essential not just to human life but to all life on Earth.  Every four seconds a human’s life ends prematurely because of exposure to pollution and other environmental hazards, amounting to 800 deaths per hour.  Environmental hazards inflict preventable diseases upon hundreds of millions of people every year.  Through stronger laws, these deaths and illnesses are preventable.  It is beyond debate that people are wholly dependent on a healthy environment in order to lead dignified, healthy and fulfilling lives.  It is time for the United Nations to recognize the fundamental human right to live in a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.  Many States have done so, and 100 of them enshrined the right to a healthy environment in their constitutions.  Decades of experience show this recognition has led to stronger environmental laws and policies, greater public participation in decision-making, and a level playing field with social and economic rights.  Numerous studies show it also positively influences air quality, access to drinking water and greenhouse emissions.  Vulnerable populations have benefitted from such a recognition, which reduces environmental injustices.

To recognize the right to a healthy environment, the General Assembly could adopt a new international treaty or develop an additional protocol to an existing one, he said, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  If potentially powerful, the development of a new covenant on environmental rights — which would complement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights — would be time-consuming.  The adoption of a resolution focused on the right to a healthy environment would be more expeditious.  The recognition of such a right by the United Nations would acknowledge the need to protect this right universally and serve as an impetus for more nations to incorporate it in their constitutions.  The current situation, with over 200 environmental defenders being murdered annually, demands a response.  The General Assembly has the power to catalyse action so as to accelerate the response to climate change, protect biodiversity, expand access to safe drinking water, and save millions of lives by filling a glaring gap in the international human rights system.  “This ought to be a matter of utmost urgency for the General Assembly,” he stated.

In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of Costa Rica, citing the launch of “Coalition for all” initiative aimed at addressing gender equality and human rights in multilateral environmental agreements, asked about the benefits of recognizing a right to a healthy environment and about the evidence for such.

The representative of the Russian Federation noted that a healthy environment is vitally important for the full enjoyment of human rights.  Such questions largely pertain to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and he cautioned that existing conventions should be taken into account when enshrining the global recognition to a safe, healthy and clean environment.

The representative of Switzerland thanked John Knox, first mandate holder, for clarifying and describing the main human rights obligations that apply to the environment.  She asked for clarity around the analogy referenced in the report on to the right to drinking water and sanitation, which was recognized by the General Assembly in 2010.

The representative of Slovenia requested information on how the Chair‑Rapporteur will build on work done in Geneva and New York, and more broadly, about his priorities.

The representative of the European Union asked about the most realistic option among those outlined in his report.

The representative of France, recalling that his country had drafted the universal text which led to the adoption of a new Global Compact on 10 May, enquired about significant differences between placing environmental issues on a national agenda, or within broader, legally binding instruments that guarantee rights.

Mr. BOYD, replied that State recognition of the need for a clean and safe environment leads to stronger laws and policies.  The most significant impact of such recognition is in improved air quality, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and safe drinking water.  In over four decades, he has seen gains year after year for countries that have recognized this need, which has made a difference in environmental law.  Multilateral agreements can also strengthen all the disparate existing agreements.  Gaps in environmental law include recognition of the right to a healthy environment.

He has had eight years to study the impact of the General Assembly resolution on the right to sanitation and clean water, he said, noting that today, more countries have enshrined the right to a clean environment into their constitutions.  Indeed, global rights catalyse better environmental performance.

Looking at the relationship between air pollution and human rights, he said such pollution takes 6 to 7 million lives prematurely globally per year.  He encouraged States to take a human rights approach on this issue, and to consider gender in that regard.  In the short-term, he recommended that the United Nations create a resolution to recognize the right to a healthy environment.  Recognition of a global right to a healthy environment would also bolster legal frameworks.  Profound impacts have been seen in Argentina and Costa Rica, and through court decisions in other countries.

Hazardous Substances

BASKUT TUNCAK, Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, said exposure to toxic substances is a particularly vicious form of exploitation.  Two million workers die every year from occupational diseases.  Exposure to toxic pollution is now estimated to be the largest source of premature death in the developing world, killing more people than HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.  Paediatricians describe children today as born “pre-polluted” to a cocktail of unquestionably toxic substances, many of which have no safe level of exposure.  “A silent pandemic of disease, disability and premature death is now widespread,” he said.  Exacerbating such suffering is the audacious behaviour of certain States and businesses that deny the impacts on health and set permissible exposure levels that cause adverse effects.

He pointed out that, in London, 40,000 premature deaths per year are due to air pollution, and evacuees from Fukushima were compelled to return to areas that authorities did not consider safe before the nuclear disaster.  There are opportunities to strengthen global protection from toxic exposure, he assured.  The ongoing negotiations to develop the post-2020 global framework on toxic chemicals and wastes are necessary and can advance the Sustainable Development Goal targets that require a reduction in toxic exposure.  Underscoring that preventable diseases and disabilities are externalized upon the vulnerable through globalized supply chains, he recalled that States have due diligence obligations regarding human rights.  Governments can therefore compel businesses to identify, monitor, prevent and mitigate the risks of toxic exposures in their supply chains.

The representative of the European Union asked what could be done to protect against exposure without prior consent, and whether a mechanism could be created for workers who have been exposed to toxic substances to receive immediate remedy.

The representative of Japan strongly opposed the report as it contains inaccurate elements relating to Fukushima.  On cutting housing funding, he clarified that the Government continues to provide housing support for self‑evacuees.  There is a misunderstanding regarding the accumulative effects of radiation and he expressed concern over inaccurate media reports in that regard.

Mr. TUNCAK said all workers have the right not to be exposed without their prior consent.  He had found inspiration in the United Kingdom’s modern slavery act, which describes forms of exploitation by deception, citing the level to which workers are aware of their exposure, and whether chemicals have been tested for health impacts.  Few chemicals have been proven safe and many have not been tested.

For the economically vulnerable, the choice to consent to exposure may not exist, he said:  it is a choice between having food on the table or being exposed.  “This is not proper consent,” he stressed.  Eliminating exposure altogether is one of the best practices.  The burden of proof for exposure requires a shift, as in the case of asbestos:  one only must prove employment in an industry where he or she was exposed, in order to access remedies.

Regarding Fukushima, he said that during the Universal Periodic Review a recommendation was made to lower the acceptable amount of radiation.  He encouraged Japan to implement that recommendation, citing the harmful impacts of radiation for children and women of childbearing age, in particular.  He echoed calls for global recognition for the right to a safe and sustainable environment.  Today, it is a privilege enjoyed by very few.


RUDDY JOSÉ FLORES MONTERREY, Chief Rapporteur of the open-ended intergovernmental working group on a United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas, recalled the working group was tasked with preparing and presenting a draft United Nations declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas.  The Working Group received valuable suggestions from States, civil society, international organizations, peasants and other stakeholders.  The report summarizes the discussions and includes the specific proposals that were received by the agreed deadlines.  Thanking all parties involved for their flexibility, engagement, and the efforts deployed to strike a balance between all positions, he said that the Human Rights Council adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas last month, through resolution 39/12.

This resolution is the culmination of six years of constructive, inclusive and transparent negotiations, he added.  It is a testament to the importance of multilateralism for the improvement of human rights protection standards.  Above all, it expresses the international community’s will to promote equal rights and dignity for vulnerable communities, particularly those who provide the world with food.  To protect the rights of people living and working in rural areas is to safeguard the world’s prime source of food and the jobs of millions of families, he stressed.  It also fosters sustainable development and resilience in the face of climate change, while ensuring the protection of biodiversity, on which food systems depend.  Most importantly, the Declaration recognizes that those who live in rural areas have equal rights.  Hence, he called on the General Assembly to adopt it.

In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of Bolivia stressed that peasants play a crucial role in food security.  The Declaration offers a significant step forward in recognition of their rights and an historic opportunity for cooperation.

The representative of Indonesia noted that peasants’ livelihoods lie at the heart of national policies.  The Government and civil society were involved in drafting the Declaration in Geneva, she emphasized, noting that the adoption of the Declaration is an important initial step.  In considering its evolutionary nature, she enquired about plans for outreach to foster better understanding.

The representative of the European Union, stressing the bloc’s priority for ensuring respect for the rights of people living in rural areas, said some States have problems with the creation of a new set of collective rights.  On farmers disproportionately affected by climate change and natural disasters, he asked for guidance on how to build their resilience and improve agricultural effectiveness.

The representative of Cuba stressed the importance of conservation of biodiversity and food security, expressing regret that peasants lack access to fair prices.  This Declaration will improve their living conditions.

The representative of South Africa described training programmes for people in rural areas, noting that land ownership is a central focus in all economic policies.

Mr. FLORES MONTERREY replied that "provisions in the preamble have been made to adapt the Declaration to social development and the national legal order."  Thus, a sufficiently balanced report could be achieved.  The Declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas is an effective contribution, recognized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Peasants and workers in rural areas are among the most vulnerable groups, he said, and deserve international support.  On the negotiation process, he said it was not possible to include every proposal.  Peasants participated in the Human Rights Council’s process to adopt the Declaration, he explained.  Policies should be rolled out at all levels to be effective.  “Eighty per cent of local food provided by peasants and 80 per cent those who suffer hunger live in rural areas,” he said; a “striking” figure which lead to the Declaration’s adoption.

For information media. Not an official record.