General Assembly Adopts Texts on Torture-Free Trade, Assisting Terrorism Victims, Anniversary of Cairo Population Conference

GA/12160
28 June 2019
Seventy-third Session, 95th & 96th Meetings (AM & PM)

General Assembly Adopts Texts on Torture-Free Trade, Assisting Terrorism Victims, Anniversary of Cairo Population Conference

Delegates Conclude Two-day Debate on Responsibility to Protect, Prevention of Genocide, Crimes against Humanity

The General Assembly today adopted three draft resolutions:  on assisting victims of terrorism, commemorating the anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development and on torture-free trade.

By a recorded vote of 81 in favour to 20 against, with 44 abstentions, the Assembly adopted the draft resolution “Towards torture-free trade:  examining the feasibility, scope and parameters for possible common international standards” (document A/73/L.94), focusing on the feasibility, scope and parameters for possible common international standards for the import, export and transfer of goods used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.  By the draft’s terms, the Assembly requested the Secretary-General to seek the views of Member States on such standards and to establish a group of experts to be chosen on the basis of equitable geographical distribution to examine a range of options.

Several delegations spoke in explanation of position, exchanging divergent views on consultations and terminology.  Many representatives spoke out against the rushed nature of the informal consultations, of which there were only three.  Others outlined various concerns they had presented to the resolution’s co-sponsors during consultations and which were ignored or excluded from the final draft.

Some of the 20 Member States who voted against the text said that one of the main reasons for doing so was that the draft linked torture and inhumane treatment to capital punishment, the latter of which they said States had a right to use.

Saudi Arabia’s representative said that the death penalty does not counter the provisions of international law and international conventions, including the Convention against Torture.  The death penalty in Saudi Arabia is only executed in very serious cases and after the holding of transparent and just trials.  Every country, including Saudi Arabia, has an inherit right to implement its national laws.

China’s representative said that whether or not the death penalty should be applied must be entirely up to national Governments.  He also expressed concern that the text was linking trade to human rights.

Other delegates expressed concern that the United Nations and particularly the General Assembly should not legislate trade.  In this vein, Singapore’s delegate called the text “fundamentally flawed”.  The resolution is asking the General Assembly to legislate and regulate international trade, she stressed, adding:  “It is not the appropriate body to do so.”

Echoing a similar sentiment, Jamaica’s representative expressed concern that the draft could set a precedent that could restrict countries from conducting trade, which would heavily impact a country like Jamaica that heavily depends on trade.  She also underscored that the co-sponsors of the resolution did not sufficiently address or take into consideration concerns expressed by delegates and expressed concern that the group of experts would do the same.

Romania’s representative, who introduced the text, said a commitment to free trade does not mean that the international community should tolerate the import and export of goods that have been specifically designed to maim and kill.  In fact, the international community has long been united in its condemnation of torture, underscoring that 166 States have ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.  Trade in goods that can only be used for torture or other cruel, degrading or inhuman treatment or punishment has been a longstanding concern at the United Nations.  Torture can of course be inflicted with a fist or a pencil, he said, adding: “But we do not contend that turning a blind eye to the torture trade can only empower those who resort to torture and can only help to legitimize an illegal international practice.”

In other matters, the Assembly adopted by consensus the draft resolution “Enhancement of International Cooperation to Assist Victims of Terrorism” (document A/73/L.88), introduced by Afghanistan’s delegate, calling on all Member States to develop comprehensive assistance plans for victims of terrorism, consistent with domestic law and taking into account a gender perspective.

By the terms of the draft resolution “Commemoration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development” (document A/73/L.95), adopted by consensus and introduced by Egypt’s representative also on behalf of Canada, the Assembly decided to mark the anniversary at a high-level meeting on 16 July.

The Assembly also concluded its two-day discussion on the responsibility to protect, and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.  Participating in the debate were representatives of South Africa, Iran, Georgia, Cuba, Argentina, Israel, Togo, Egypt, Ecuador, Peru, United States, Indonesia, Colombia, Ukraine, Russian Federation and Nigeria.

International Conference on Population and Development

The Assembly took up the draft resolution “Commemoration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development” (document A/73/L.95).

The representative of Egypt, introducing “L.95” also on behalf of Canada, underscored the influence that the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994 had on the issue of population.  Success at the Cairo Conference has also bolstered efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Noting that “L.95” sets aside an evening session for the Assembly on 16 July to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Cairo Conference, he said the occasion will serve as an opportunity to exchange viewpoints and lessons learned while advancing national, regional and United Nations efforts to implement the Conference’s outcomes and will coincide with the High-Level Political Forum, benefiting from the participation of academia and civil society attending that event.

The Assembly then adopted “L.95” without a vote.

The representative of the Russian Federation, explaining his delegation’s position, said the Programme of Action adopted at the Cairo Conference is a fundamental document regarding population and development and is one that should not be amended.  While his delegation supported the resolution to bolster the principle of consensus, the Russian Federation does not agree with all the provisions outlined in the text, which shall not create a precedent for the participation of civil society and academia in such meetings.

Towards Torture-Free Trade

The Assembly turned its attention to the draft resolution “Towards torture-free trade: examining the feasibility, scope and parameters for possible common international standards” (document A/73/L.94).

The representative of Romania, introducing “L.94” on behalf of the European Union and the Global Alliance for Torture-Free Trade, said the international community is united in its condemnation of torture and has underscored on many occasions the imperative of working towards its eradication.  Noting that 166 States have ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, he said the trade in goods that can only be used for torture or other cruel, degrading or inhuman treatment or punishment has been a longstanding concern at the United Nations.  Highlighting concerns expressed by some States during informal consultations that “L.94” conflates trade and human rights in an inappropriate way, he said a commitment to free trade does not mean that the international community should tolerate the import and export of goods that have been specifically designed to maim and kill.  Torture can of course be inflicted with a fist or a pencil, he noted, adding:  “But we do not contend that turning a blind eye to the torture trade can only empower those who resort to torture and can only help to legitimize an illegal international practice.” 

The representative of Singapore, explaining her delegation’s position, said “L.94” is fundamentally flawed.  In terms of substance, it asks the General Assembly to legislate and regulate international trade.  “It is not the appropriate body to do so,” she said.  Moreover, only three informal consultations were held on the draft resolution, during which many Member States expressed concern that the text was being rushed.  In addition, “L.94” seeks to establish new conditions on international trade which could be used to justify protectionism.  It is ironic that the co-sponsors have always claimed to be advocates of a multilateral trading system, she said, adding that Singapore’s “lifeblood” is international trade.  However, it is inappropriate for the United Nations to adopt this text.  With unilateralism on the rise, the draft establishes a precedent and emboldens others to put forth drafts that legislate international trade.  Co-sponsors also link capital punishment to torture, demonstrating that they are only interested in pushing forward their ideologies.  For the abovementioned reasons, she will vote against “L.94”, urging others to do the same.

The representative of Saudi Arabia expressed regret about both the lack of consensus and the methods used in negotiations.  “This resolution includes ambiguous points that contradict its title,” he added, noting that the death penalty does not counter provisions of international law and international conventions, including the Convention against Torture.  The death penalty in Saudi Arabia is only executed in very serious cases and after transparent and just trials have been conducted.  There was “haze” in the preparation of “L.94”, particularly in operative paragraph 1, which requests the Secretary-General to seek the views of Member States on the feasibility and possible scope of a range of options to establish common international standards for the import, export and transfer of goods used for capital punishment and torture, he said, emphasizing that Saudi Arabia has an inherent right to implement its national laws.

The representative of China expressed concern about the manner in which the draft resolution was tabled today, underscoring that his country is party to the Convention against Torture and continues to prohibit torture in its national legislation.  His delegation is seriously concerned that the main sponsors of the draft resolution are linking trade to human rights.  The draft also includes capital punishment in its scope, he said, adding that whether the death penalty should be applied or not should be up to countries themselves.  Even though there were only three informal consultations and many Member States expressed deep concern about the text, the co-sponsors insisted on presenting “L.94” at the General Assembly.  For these reasons, his delegation would vote against the draft resolution.

The representative of Japan underscored two serious issues in the draft:  the mention of the death penalty and the intention to legislate trade.  Prevention of torture is established in international mechanisms and conventions.  Japan constructively engaged in negotiations, proposing the deletion of mentioning the death penalty, however the co-sponsors did not accept these amendments.  As such, Japan would vote against “L.94”.

The representative of Egypt said his delegation would have liked to join consensus on “L.94” had it been accurate enough in dealing with the main objective of putting an end to the trade of torture goods.  However, his delegation has reservations on several issues relating to its provisions and the way in which it was tabled today.  Not enough time was allocated for discussions and negotiations.  This sets a serious precedent in the handling of human rights issues at the General Assembly, he continued, reiterating the co-sponsors’ failure to take into account the views of Member States.  “Our main reservation is reflected in the text’s possible impacts on international trade,” he said.  In addition, “L.94” links torture and other forms of inhuman treatment to capital punishment, which many Member States have objected to.  States have the sovereign right to apply capital punishment for the most heinous crimes, he said.

The representative of Jamaica, noting that her delegation would vote against “L.94”, expressed concern about setting a precedent for restricting countries from conducting trade.  This could heavily impact a country like Jamaica that heavily depends on trade.  Other General Assembly draft resolutions that provide parameters on torture and inhuman treatment also emphasize that every sovereign country has the right to implement its own law.  The draft does not sufficiently address or take into consideration amendments tabled by many Member States during deliberations.  Moreover, the draft resolution envisions the establishment of a group of experts to establish international standards, she said, adding that this group is unlikely to be representative of the views of those who expressed concern over the points that, in the end, were included in “L.94”.

The representative of Sudan pointed out that several paragraphs refer to capital punishment, a controversial topic that has yet to find consensus in the Main Committees of the General Assembly.  Because capital punishment is a matter that is subject to the national legislation of many countries, Sudan will oppose the draft resolution.

The representative of the United States, emphasizing that her country does not take trade policy direction from the Assembly, said further restrictions on material used for capital punishment are inconsistent with international law.  As such, her delegation will vote against “L.94”.

The representative of Indonesia said it is unfortunate that requests by delegations for the deletion of all references to the death penalty were not accommodated.  In addition, there were too few informal consultations for a meaningful exchange of ideas, and the draft should have been discussed in Geneva where the United Nations has experts on both trade and human rights.  For these reasons, Indonesia would abstain.

The representative of Yemen, noting that the text fails to take the concerns and doubts of several delegations into account, agreed that degrading treatment and punishment should not be considered on par with capital punishment.

The representative of Iraq, also questioning the linkage made between torture and the death penalty, described as strange the request contained in operative paragraph 1 for the Secretary-General to seek the views of Member States on establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of goods used for capital punishment and torture.  That request put torture and capital punishment on an equal footing, which is not in line with international law.  As such, Iraq would vote against.

The General Assembly then adopted resolution “L.94” by a recorded vote of 81 in favour to 20 against, with 44 abstentions.

The representative of Iran explained his delegation’s position, saying it voted against “L.94” due to the provision linking torture and inhuman punishment with capital punishment, the latter remaining within the rights of national Governments to pass its own laws.

The representative of Malaysia, expressing concern about how negotiations were conducted, said the issue of torture was being well handled by colleagues in Geneva.  He also expressed hope that the resolution would be improved upon in the future.

The representative of Pakistan said his country remains committed to human rights, underscoring that the prohibition of torture is enshrined in its national Constitution.  However, “L.94” woefully falls short of international standards, particularly in the way deliberations were held.  Establishing common international standards on trade has no linkage with torture.  Every country has a right to decide its own criminal justice system.  For these reasons, Pakistan voted against “L.94”.

The representative of Libya said the resolution did not take into account the concerns of many States.  Libya abstained because the resolution establishes a link between torture and capital punishment.  Capital punishment can be implemented according to national law and for the most serious crimes.  The resolution is also ambiguous in its description of certain elements.

The representative of Israel said her country voted against “L.94”, echoing similar concerns outlined by others, including its scope on trade.  She also questioned whether the General Assembly is the proper place to discuss trade.  She expressed disappointment that her delegation’s concerns were not taken into account.  Despite opposing torture, Israel could not vote in favour of the draft.

The representative of India said freedom of torture is a human right and must be protected.  The multilateral trading system is already under stress, she said, expressing concern over the linkage in the text between torture and trade.  Every State has a sovereign right to its own legal system.  Torture is a crime and unlawful, but incorporating capital punishment into the scope of this resolution is unjustified.  As such, India abstained.

The representative of Algeria said his country abstained from voting, expressing concern that the co-sponsors did not take into account proposals made by several delegations.  “All parties ought to be able to participate”, he said, adding that he disagreed with the position linking torture and capital punishment.  Torture is outlawed in international conventions while the practice of capital punishment is a decision made by national Governments.

The representative of Viet Nam said her delegation abstained from the vote for several reasons, including the text’s inclusion of capital punishment, which is a sovereign right of each country.  The establishment of a group of experts must be conducted in an inclusive manner so that all Member States’ concerns can be considered.

The representative of Myanmar said his delegation voted against the resolution because negotiations were carried out in haste without due consideration for all opinions.

The representative of Mongolia said “L.94” calls on the United Nations to examine the feasibility and possible scope of a range of options to establish common international standards for imports and exports of related goods.  Torture is a human rights violation, he said, emphasizing that as a member of the Global Alliance for Torture-Free Trade, he said he voted in support of the text.

The representative of Romania said that the resolution was drafted in a balanced and transparent manner and was essential in helping to establish torture-free trade.

The representative of Australia said that as a member of the Global Alliance for Torture-Free Trade, his delegation strongly supports “L.94”.  Trade in goods that could only be used in torture has been a serious concern at the United Nations for many years, and several resolutions have called for action in this field.  Regional organizations have also recognized the seriousness of the torture trade and have called for action.  Taking steps to address the trade of torture goods is a good way to address this call, he said, adding that the views of all Member States will be taken into account in the establishment of a group of experts, as outlined in “L.94”.  In addition, the draft does not assert that the death penalty amounts to torture and is prohibited by international law.

International Cooperation to Assist Victims of Terrorism

The Assembly then turned to the draft resolution “Enhancement of International Cooperation to Assist Victims of Terrorism” (document A/73/L.88).

The representative of Afghanistan, introducing L.88 , said terrorism and violent extremism continue to undermine the shared values of peace, security, human rights for all and rule of law.  “This evil phenomenon is also a direct threat to our sustainable growth and development,” he said.  Most of the time, victims of terrorism are forgotten shortly after the incident, left to address their trauma and pick up shattered pieces of their lives by themselves.  “We believe that victims of terrorism deserve more international attention; their voices must be heard, their rights must be protected, and their needs must be addressed,” he emphasized.  He said “L.88” aims at further strengthening national and international mechanisms to support victims of terrorism and their families and ensuring that their human rights are respected.  It also would have the Assembly condemn all acts, methods and practices of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and expresses the unwavering commitment of the international community to strengthening cooperation to prevent and combat terrorism, address impunity and pursue accountability for the perpetrators and their supporters.

He said “L.88” would have the Assembly call upon Member States to develop comprehensive assistance plans to address the needs of victims of terrorism and their families and request the relevant United Nations entities to assist countries in developing such plans.  The text also requests the Secretary-General to submit a report containing an evaluation of existing United Nations activities on victims of terrorism with a focus on concrete recommendations for a voluntarily funded comprehensive programme to support Member States in this regard.

The representative of Argentina said the resolution addresses concerns about materials used, referring in a distinct manner to both the goods used for the death penalty and the goods used for torture.  The resolution is a crucial step forward that will establish standards.

The representative of Cabo Verde reaffirmed that no one should be subjected to torture or cruel and inhumane treatment.  The resolution is a step towards establishing standards for the transport of goods used for these practices with a view towards torture-free trade.

The representative of Syria, explaining his delegation’s position, voiced support for the draft resolution.  However, he reiterated a call to examine the work of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre, noting that Syria would continue to disassociate itself from it, as it runs contrary to the spirit of transparency and neutrality of the United Nations.  He condemned terrorist acts that target public and private property leading to the displacement of millions.  Establishing accountability for perpetrators must remain part of the national framework and be aligned with State laws.  Sharing information and expertise among States must be based on the principle of mutual respect for the sovereignty of countries.  Syria has lost tens of thousands of its citizens and wages a war against terrorism, yet it has not received any relevant funding to its efforts.  Eradicating terrorism requires assistance from the international community.  “We owe the victims of terrorism around the world a large debt,” he said, emphasizing the critical need to address its root causes.

The representative of the Russian Federation regretted to note that some fundamental aspects were left out of the text.  In its implementation, the imperatives of combatting terrorism must be taken into account.  He called on all States to fulfil their obligations and responsibilities under the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, adding that the political will for law enforcement cooperation is crucial for reducing the number of terrorist acts and for assisting the victims of terrorism.

The representative of Spain said it is crucial to ensure that victims play a role in combatting terrorism.  Noting the formation this week of the Group of Friends of the Victims of Terrorism, as well as next year’s High-Level Conference of Heads of Counter-Terrorism Agencies of Member States, she said Spain has established a comprehensive system to address the needs of victims of terrorism and that it stands ready to share its experiences.

Responsibility to Protect

The Assembly then concluded its debate on the responsibility to protect.

XOLISA MFUNDISO MABHONGO (South Africa), emphasizing that the prevention of atrocities is central to the successful implementation of the responsibility to protect, said that principle must never be used for self-interest.  Security Council mandates that impose the responsibility to protect must be clearly defined and respect the United Nations Charter.  Situations requiring the responsibility to protect must be restricted to genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.  Pointing to Libya and Côte d’Ivoire, he said South Africa opposes any open-ended authorization of the use of force with no accountability, which in the past has led to “regime-change expeditions”.  When abused, the responsibility to protect can lead to catastrophic humanitarian consequences, he added.  He went on to underscore the role of regional organizations, the women, peace and security agenda, protection of civilians and guarantees of non-recurrence.

MAJID TAKHT RAVANCHI (Iran) said States hold the primary responsibility to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.  Other States or the international community can step in, through the United Nations, on a case-by-case basis.  Emphasizing that “we are far from a consensual understanding of the responsibility to protect,” he reiterated a call for normative contents and objectives, as well as a scope of application, to be defined in line with the United Nations Charter and international law.  The objective of the responsibility to protect should not be defined as regime change or interference in the internal affairs of States, he said, wondering how some States can fulfil their obligations vis-à-vis the responsibility to protect while also selling arms with the knowledge that they will used against civilians.

GIORGI MIKELADZE (Georgia), associating himself with the European Union, said his country, having suffered waves of ethnic cleansing due to foreign military occupation, understands the importance of strong and proactive preventative tools to avert crises that target civilians.  Drawing attention to the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, he said it is imperative for the Security Council to act in a timely and efficient manner in exercising its role in preventing mass atrocities.

ANA SILVIA RODRÍGUEZ ABASCAL (Cuba) said the topic remains a source of grave concern, particularly for developing States, due to the lack of consensus and the various definitions of the responsibility to protect that can be manipulated for political interests.  Such expressions as “atrocity crimes” and “mass atrocities” can be used selectively or for political purposes.  Cuba supports international efforts to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, but such initiatives should contribute to strengthening the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter and international law.  She went on to emphasize the need to address such root causes as underdevelopment, poverty and an unfair economic order.

ALEJANDRO GUILLERMO VERDIER (Argentina) said prevention is the most important dimension with regard to protecting people against atrocity crimes.  It is also vital to value the participation of women, civil society and regional and subregional organizations in the prevention and resolution of conflicts.  He also underscored the importance of the Rome Statute for strengthening accountability.

Mr. MA’UDI (Israel) underscored the need to do more to ensure that civilians get the protection they deserve.  Recalling that her country faces the threat of annihilation every day, she welcomed the Secretary-General’s emphasis on the responsibility of States to protect civilians from the most grievous crimes.  Israel adopted educational and legislative measures to protect all citizens regardless of race, religion or ethnicity as well as a national campaign to promote tolerance and coexistence.  The responsibility to protect should be construed and applied within existing legal frameworks, she said, adding that the roles and responsibilities of non-State actors and terrorist groups must be addressed.  The responsibility to protect cannot be just a slogan or words on paper, but must be translated into action.

MOHAMED ABDELRAHMAN MOHAMED MOUSSA (Egypt) said contemporary history has taught harsh lessons about humanitarian tragedies resulting from hate messages, fascism, xenophobia, discrimination and violations of the rights of others.  Noting that many countries have not truly taken up their United Nations Charter responsibilities, he cautioned against efforts to develop the responsibility to protect concept in an expansionist manner, which runs counter to the current international consensus.  Warning that such an attempt might threaten the principles of sovereign equality of States and non-interference — and could potentially slow international responses to serious crimes — he emphasized that “there is no need to reinvent the wheel”, as the primary responsibility to protect falls on States.  Noting that Member States only agreed to consider the current agenda item during the Assembly’s seventy-second session, he questioned its inclusion at the seventy-third, adding: “This will lead to a lack of focus in really dealing with these atrocities.”

ELAINE MARIE FRENCH (United States), echoing expressions of support for the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, urged the Assembly to make today’s debate an annual agenda item.  Outlining the United States various prevention-oriented policies, she noted that the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act — which came into force in January 2019 — uses a coordinated, whole-of-Government approach to forecast, prevent and respond to atrocities.  The United States is also working to meaningfully engage women in prevention and mediation efforts around the globe and strongly supports the United Nations Human Rights Up Front Initiative.  Given that human rights abuses and violations often constitute early warning signs of impending atrocities, she urged States to work more closely with the Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Cultural and Humanitarian) as well as the United Nations various special mechanisms to improve prevention efforts.

JUAN CUELLAR TORRES (Colombia), noting that his country is no stranger to the impacts of violence, underlined the need to undertake all possible measures to prevent atrocity crimes.  The 2016 accord that ended Colombia’s longstanding armed conflict included specific elements to ensure truth, redress and non-recurrence, he said, emphasizing that all Member States must discharge their duties under international law.  “We must keep our doors open to all those persons who flee from a vulnerable State and a lack of protection,” he said.  In addition, he advocated for the addition of the cruel, immoral practice of intentional starvation — which is regrettably still widely used in various conflict situations — as a war crime under the Rome Statute.

IHOR YAREMENKO (Ukraine) voiced concern that some parties continue to exploit the right to protect in order to violate United Nations Charter principles.  As an example, he cited military actions by the Russian Federation in Ukraine under the pretext of a sociocultural protection of Russian-speaking Ukrainians.  He also recalled that the Assembly has repeatedly affirmed Ukraine’s sovereignty, political independence, unity and territorial integrity within internationally recognized borders and condemned the temporary occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol by the Russian Federation.  “The United Nations family is not going to tolerate manipulation of responsibility to protect principles,” he said, urging Moscow to reverse its occupation, withdraw its troops and end its aggression against Ukraine.  Noting that the Security Council has a particular responsibility to protect populations from atrocity crimes, he said the use or threat of use of the veto can stall the organ’s response in situations where urgent action is needed.  He voiced strong support for efforts to phase out the veto in such cases, such as the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Code of Conduct or the French-Mexican initiative.

GENNADY V. KUZMIN (Russian Federation) voiced regret that, for the second year in a row, the Assembly voted to hold this debate.  While strongly agreeing with the need to prevent atrocity crimes, he warned that the responsibility to protect principle has been degraded.  Rejecting the allegations levelled by his counterpart from Ukraine, he said a country that elevates Nazis to the level of national heroes, holds Nazi torch-bearing ceremonies and where soldiers draw swastikas on their helmets has no right to wield accusations against the Russian Federation.

Also speaking were representatives of Togo, Ecuador, Peru, Indonesia and Nigeria.

For information media. Not an official record.