Citing Enforced Disappearances, Anti-Semitic Acts, Migrant Deaths at Sea, Experts Press Third Committee Delegates To Uphold Human Rights Treaties

GA/SHC/4269
17 October 2019
Seventy-fourth Session, 23rd & 24th Meetings (AM & PM)

Citing Enforced Disappearances, Anti-Semitic Acts, Migrant Deaths at Sea, Experts Press Third Committee Delegates To Uphold Human Rights Treaties

Russian Federation, United States, China Accuse Each Other of Double Standards

An increase in enforced disappearances, anti-Semitic incidents, and deaths of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean were among the concerns addressed in briefings to the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, as delegates engaged with human rights experts in interactive dialogues.

Luciano Hazan, Chair of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, said these practices have been exacerbated by new phenomena, with States engaging in extraterritorial abductions and using reprisals against family members.  He drew attention to people outside their countries of origin — often migrants and refugees — who disappear before reaching their destination.

In this context, he underscored the importance of transitional justice in investigating enforced disappearances, noting that certain States justify the increasing numbers as stemming from their counter‑terrorism efforts.  He expressed concern over the State practice of reprisals against victims, as well as the tendency of State authorities to pressure family members, forcing them to refrain from submitting cases to the Working Group or other relevant mechanisms.  Any State that participates in such deplorable activity violates international law, he said.

In the ensuing debate, the representative of the Russian Federation pointed to Guantanamo prison as an example of the United States double standards on human rights.  In Guantanamo, people are held in secret detention, without accusation or fair trial, and the perpetrators of enforced disappearances are not brought to justice.  He also pointed to secret prions on European territory, recalling the 2018 rulings by the European Court of Human Rights in the Abu Zubaydah v. Lithuania and Al Nashiri v. Romania cases.  The United States representative meanwhile expressed concern over the situation in China, where more than 1 million people are detained in camps with no access to family and legal counsel, as well as the Maduro regime in Venezuela.  China’s representative called accusations by the United States delegate “baseless”, urging the United States to stop interfering in the internal affairs of other countries under the pretense of human rights.  To this, Mr. Hazan replied that the Working Group would welcome an invitation from China to visit the country.

Turning to the rights of migrants and refugees, Can Ünver, Chair of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, said there are about 271.6 million migrants in the world.  Stressing that some 30,000 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea over the past three decades, he urged States to stop criminalizing irregular migration.  In a similar vein, Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, said migration is never a gender‑neutral phenomenon, adding that the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration sets out a gender‑responsive road map for migration, using a whole‑of‑society approach.

Meanwhile, Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, stressed that the frequency of anti‑Semitic incidents appears to be increasing in several countries.  His report demonstrates the global nature of the problem and considers anti‑Semitism a multigenerational concern.  While the ways in which anti‑Semitism is manifested have evolved, the ethnic, religious and racialized narratives used to incite violence against Jews throughout history continue to inform anti‑Semitic views today.  Social media platforms enable their extensive dissemination.  Recalling the Holocaust — the ultimate example of religious and racial hatred — he reminded States of their human rights law obligations, including to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion or belief.

Also briefing the Committee were Mohammed Ayat, President of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, and Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus.

The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on 18 October to continue its consideration of the promotion and protection of human rights.

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights today (for background, see Press Release GA/SHC/4266).

MOHAMMED AYAT, President of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, said States have legitimate expectations that the human rights treaty body system will evolve towards simplicity, predictability and efficiency — all while preserving the specificity of its various components.  “Our Committee fits perfectly into this optic,” he said.  As the most recent treaty body, the Committee was created by States in a manner that anticipated such reform, with a flexibility built into its procedures.  For example, the Committee does not have period reports.  Rather, there is a possibility to ask States parties to provide additional information, which, in principle, is presented in writing.  There is also a procedure for submitting urgent actions that allow the Committee to work with States parties with the goal of protecting victims.  “Thanks to this innovative procedure, the Committee has been able to save the lives of victims of enforced disappearances,” he assured.

During its sixteenth session, the Committee adopted guiding principles on the procedure for researching victims of enforced disappearances, he said, clarifying that they do not add new State obligations, but rather, serve as a tool for facilitating research related to victims.  Stressing that the Committee’s success depends on financial and human resource support from States, he said treaty body Committees will be unable to handle an increasing workload if their resources “dry up”.  And yet, this is the critical situation facing the Committee today.  Noting that 62 countries have ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, he called for greater efforts to universalize the instrument.  Solidarity with the victims of enforced disappearances equally requires the active and determined involvement of civil society, continually encouraged and supported by States.

In the ensuing dialogue, several delegates including the representative of France took to the floor to encourage States that had not yet done so to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.  The European Union’s representative also encouraged such ratification and asked the Chair to describe the new trends that characterize enforced disappearance around the world today and how his Committee planned to tackle them.

Noting that States often complain that the Committee asks them the same questions, Morocco’s delegate asked the Chair how he would address that issue and inquired about the consideration of a Member State if that State is absent.  The delegate of Maldives, aware of the dire consequences of the failure to submit timely reports to the Committee, said that his country has established a commission on enforced disappearances which has the power to investigate these cases.

Mr. AYAT replied to concerns over repeated questions by stressing that, sometimes, this repetition is deliberate because there are some topics that are of such a serious nature that they should then be highlighted.  When a State is not present for its review, a list of questions is adopted to invite States to enter into a dialogue.  The aim is discussion, not to avoid or consider the situation of a State when the State is absent.  On interaction with other mechanisms, he said the Committee on Enforced Disappearances works with the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances and Involuntary Disappearances.  On the question of new forms of enforced disappearances, he noted that they are often linked to immigration and trafficking in persons.

Also speaking were the representatives of the Russian Federation and Japan.

LUCIANO HAZAN, Chair of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, thanking States for their voluntary contributions, described increasing concerns over enforced disappearances under totalitarian regimes.  The practice of enforced disappearances has been exacerbated by new phenomena, with States engaging in extraterritorial abductions and using reprisals against family members.  He drew attention to the people outside their countries of origin — often migrants and refugees — who disappear before reaching their country of destination.  In this context, he underscored the importance of transitional justice investigating enforced disappearances, noting that certain States justify the increasing numbers as stemming from their counter‑terrorism efforts.

He further expressed concern over the State practice of reprisals against victims, as well as the tendency of State authorities to place pressure on family members, forcing them to refrain from submitting cases to the Working Group or other relevant mechanisms.  Any State that participates in such deplorable activity violates international law.  The numbers of enforced disappearances, especially of migrants, are alarming.  Stressing the importance of the Working Group’s country visits, he said recent visits to Ukraine and Sri Lanka provided an opportunity to acquire first‑hand knowledge of events in the field.  Regrettably, it is more difficult for the Working Group to have their requests for visits accepted, he said, urging States to accept them as soon as possible and to support its upcoming awareness‑raising campaign.

In the ensuing debate, the representative of Argentina called for implementation of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, a vital tool for addressing the issue.  He asked about the most effective strategies for ensuring that State signatories ratify the Convention.  The representative of the Russian Federation meanwhile pointed to Guantanamo prison as an example of the United States double standards on human rights.  In Guantanamo, people are held in secret detention, without accusation or fair trial, and the perpetrators of enforced disappearances are not brought to justice.  He also pointed to secret prions on European territory, recalling the 2018 rulings by the European Court of Human Rights in the Abu Zubaydah v. Lithuania and Al Nashiri v. Romania cases.

The European Union’s delegate pointed to new cases which demonstrate the importance of the Working Group in fighting enforced disappearances, while France’s representative, associating with the European Union, condemned the grave violations highlighted in the report and increased number of reprisals against families and civil society groups, calling for dialogue with States and urging all States to ratify the International Convention.  The United States representative said the devastating effect of enforced disappearances on society cannot be overstated, calling on all Member States to cooperate with the Working Group and to hold the perpetrators accountable.  He pointed to China, where more than 1 million people are detained in camps with no access to family and legal counsel.  He further expressed concern over reports of enforced disappearances under the Maduro regime in Venezuela, asking what more can be done to hold perpetrators accountable.  China’s representative called accusations by the United States delegate “baseless”, reiterating China’s commitment to protect the human rights of all minorities.  He urged the United States to engage in constructive dialogue and stop interfering in the internal affairs of other countries under the pretense of human rights.

Mr. HAZAN replied to Argentina’s delegate that the best strategies for strengthening ratification of the Convention is to keep drawing attention to the growing number of cases of enforced disappearances.  To the Russian Federation’s delegate, he said the alleged enforced disappearances in Guantanamo represent an important topic for the Working Group, recalling more broadly the issue of extraterritorial disappearances which “should not be swept under the carpet”.  To the representative of the European Union, he mentioned certain mechanisms in international law for combating enforced disappearances.  To China’s delegate, he replied that the Working Group would welcome an invitation from China to visit the country.  Insisting on the humanitarian nature of the Working Group’s mandate, he said the priority is for the Member States to identify victims of enforced disappearances and provide them and their family members with all the necessary economic and psychosocial support.  He further urged Member States and the international community to ensure that resources are provided to victims.

Situation in Belarus

ANAÏS MARIN, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, outlined challenges to genuine free and fair elections in the country, a pressing concern, with parliamentary elections due to be held in a month, and presidential elections slated for 2020.  Despite repeated calls to implement reforms in the three years since the last parliamentary elections — notably regarding voter registration, the composition of election commissions and early voting arrangements — no amendments have been made to the Electoral Code, and requests for paper ballots to be shown to observers during vote count were not considered, demonstrating a lack of willingness to guarantee transparency.  This undermines the integrity of the electoral process, she stressed.

She went on to outline threats to fundamental freedoms, including the right of voters to access information freely, which is being curbed by restrictive practices, which intensify during an election year.  Journalists and bloggers presenting dissenting views face fines and the threat of criminal prosecution, leading to self‑censorship, she said, citing recent cases such as a raid on a television station in Minsk as part of a “libel” preliminary investigation, as well as arbitrarily applied anti‑extremist legislation.  Turning to freedom of association and assembly, she noted that while 2018 saw apparent progress on these fronts, in practice this is curbed by fines and administrative liabilities.  Public gatherings require authorization, which is “selectively granted”, and rally organizers are also deterred by a decree obliging them to bear the cost of related public services, such as police protection and cleaning.  Noting that she has been unable to visit Belarus since her appointment, she underscored the Government’s hostility to dissident opinions and undue restriction of civil and political rights, which “fall short of meeting international standards”.

When the floor opened for questions and comments, the representative of Belarus said her country has a clear position on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and that “cooperation is of absolutely no interest”.  The mandate is the product of short‑sighted political motivation and does not serve the purpose of protecting human rights.  It runs counter to common sense and is an expensive luxury given the woeful financial situation at the United Nations.  Spending money on a document that is “basically fiction” is unnecessary.  The electoral process of Belarus is the internal affair of a sovereign State, she said.

Venezuela’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, said that while the Movement underscores the importance of human rights, it is concerned at the practice of adopting selective resolutions on specific countries in the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) and the Human Rights Council, the latter of which exploits human rights for political ends.  The universal periodic review is the way to address country situations, with the full participation of the country concerned.

The representative of the European Union asked about steps Belarus authorities could take to create an environment for free and fair elections, and about how Member States can help the Special Rapporteur in carrying out her mandate.  Norway’s delegate urged Belarus to abolish the death penalty and expressed concern over the situation of the Roma population, and that of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the country.

Several States also expressed concern over the curtailing of the rights of journalists in Belarus, with the United States delegate noting efforts to restrict rights to freedom of expression and association, including by fining freelance journalists.  Similarly, the United Kingdom’s delegate called on Belarus to respect the right to free expression for all, including journalists and media workers.

Ms. MARIN replied that her analysis is based on verified facts, in compliance with the principles of objectivity and impartiality.  She noted that creating an environment for elections in Belarus requires comprehensive reforms.  Immediate steps to be taken include respect for fundamental freedoms before, during and after the electoral cycle, while refraining from detaining journalists and peaceful protestors would be welcomed.  Responding to questions on how States can help her fulfil her mandate, she explained that she needed assistance to compensate for the lack of cooperation and access to Belarus.  She also encouraged States and civil society to communicate any first‑hand information that could inform her evaluation of the situation.  Constructive engagement and dialogue are necessary, and interested countries can offer their support to Belarus to help bring its legislation into line with international human rights standards, she said.

The representatives of Poland, Czech Republic, Germany and Lithuania also spoke.

CAN ÜNVER, Chair of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, said migration is at the forefront of debate in many countries.  Traditionally, both in countries of origin and recipient States, migration management has been largely underpinned by a reductive approach of cost‑benefit analyses and State sovereignty.  Managing migration flows requires an understanding that migrants are not simply agents of development or even commodities, but rather, human beings with rights, which States must protect.  Noting that there are about 271.6 million migrants in the world, he said an estimated 30,000 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea over the past three decades.  International attention was drawn to their plight during the migration surge in 2015, and more than 1 million entered Europe this year, prompting the European Union to close land and sea borders.

Regrettably, he said efforts to save migrants, such as the Italian Mare Nostrum programme, which collected 150,000 migrants in 2013 and 2014, have been replaced by border guarding projects.  States should end the criminalization of irregular migration, as it is not a crime per se against person, property or national security.  The Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration demonstrates that the discussion has moved, from whether human rights apply to migrants to how the human rights of migrants are to be upheld.  The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families is a tool to help heal the wounds of misunderstanding between States of origin, transit and destination in relation to migrant workers and their families.  It is urgent that the Convention be implemented and ratified, he said, noting that Fiji’s ratification on 19 August 2019 brought the number of States parties to 55.

When the floor opened for questions and comments, Colombia’s delegate said her country is facing an unprecedented situation due to mass migratory flows between Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia.  It has done its utmost to address the needs of all of the 32 per cent of Venezuelan people who have arrived in Colombia.  Despite limited resources, Colombia will continue to provide health and education services to Venezuelan citizens who require it.

The European Union’s representative asked about the focus and goals of the Working Group on the Global Compact on Migration, while Turkey’s delegate asked about obstacles to the ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.  Libya’s delegate referred sections of the report stating that his country did not allow foreign nationals to reside without a visa or resident’s permit.  He asked the Chair what part of the Convention obliges foreign nationals to reside without a visa or permit.

Mr. ÜNVER replied that he appreciates that the challenges Colombia is facing are largely due to developments in the region.  To the European Union representative, he said the aim of the Working Group is to bring together the principles of the Convention with those of the Compact.  He expressed hope that there will be more accessions to the Convention, as the Compact creates a new atmosphere and new approaches to migration issues.  Some promotional activities to encourage ratification are under way by United Nations treaty bodies and other institutions, he said.  To Libya’s delegate, he said every country has the right to its own legislation, but his point is that irregular migrants should not be criminalized.

Also speaking were representatives of Azerbaijan and Indonesia.

FELIPE GONZÁLEZ MORALES, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, presenting his report (document A/74/191) stressed that existing discriminatory social and cultural norms place migrant women and girls in specific situations of vulnerability throughout the migration process.  Migration is never a gender‑neutral phenomenon, he said, adding that the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (also known as the Marrakech Compact on Migration) sets out a gender‑responsive road map for migration, using a whole‑of‑society approach.

He went on to outline good practices of gender‑responsive migration legislation and policies, using Member States responses to a questionnaire on the topic.  While there is no agreed‑upon definition of gender‑responsiveness in terms of legislation or policies, he explained that responding to women and girls’ needs, and staying clear of policies that revictimize or stigmatize migrants is the most effective way to ensure equitable outcomes.  He described a number of positive policies introduced by States, such as language classes that women can take with their children, resident visas granted on the basis of the parent’s relationship to a child born in the country, and settlement arrangements issued as a means of protection from deportation.

However, while gender‑sensitive policies have been developed in some countries, more broadly, challenges remain in implementation, he said, and in developing procedures that meet the needs of women and gender‑diverse persons, particularly in detention.  Among those providing services to migrants, he observed that there is often a lack of respect, safe reception conditions, timely access to relevant information and forced returns.  He urged States to sign international treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and to increase regular channels of entry and stay.  In addition, he said officials should refrain from dehumanizing migrants and other minority groups and spreading fear against them for their own political gain.

In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of the European Union stressed the need for better evidence‑based policy and asked how better disaggregated migration data could be made available.  The representative of Chile noted that in his country, migrants, including pregnant women, are entitled to health care regardless of status — a policy highlighted in the report — and went on to ask about protective policies for women who give birth in the course of their migratory journey, as well as stateless children.  Echoing his call for reliable migratory data, Switzerland’s delegate asked about priorities the Special Rapporteur’s plans to tackle in the future.

The representative of Greece, noting that his country is confronted with an unprecedented refugee crisis, stressed the need for a common understanding of migration, as well as more solidarity and burden‑sharing among States.

The representatives of the Philippines and Colombia asked about other best practices that States can apply to the current migratory context, including in removing gender‑specific barriers to the labour market.

The representative of the Russian Federation stressed the need to eliminate the causes that compel migrants to leave their homelands, including armed conflict, adding that the 2018 Global Compact for Migration is “a compromised document” that places no legal or financial obligations on countries that adopt it.

Mr. MORALES responded that the past two years of his mandate had seen the adoption of several significant multilateral initiatives on migration, and that none of them signify any intervention in the role of States to design and implement policies.  He added that he hoped for a more positive response to the significant challenges that are being experienced across all continents.

To the European Union’s representative, he underscored the need for better disaggregated data, on which there is a broad‑based consensus.  Effective measures should be taken to gather such data, which should be shared with various stakeholders, including academics.

In response to Chile’s representative, he stated that there is some confusion around migrants who are said to be in transit, stressing that migrants are not in fact in transit or stateless if they then settle in a host country.  “It is crucial for nationality to be granted to children born there,” he added.

To Switzerland’s representative, he said that his priorities are multilateralism and fighting the criminalization of migration.  Noting that Greece’s representative referred to asylum seekers, he pointed to a paradox:  that the vast majority of “illegal migration” cases he hears about should be granted refugee status, which often does not happen due to restrictive policies, as well as the time and money required for the process.  “They remain illegal migrants when they should be refugees,” he said.

He went on to underline the need to bolster the migratory status of women, so they are not afraid of going to hospitals, accessing justice or sending their children to school.  Migratory policies must be consistent and systemic; standards can be developed and implemented through cooperation and dialogue.

AHMED SHAHEED, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, stressed that violence, discrimination and expressions of hostility driven by anti‑Semitism are serious obstacles to enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief — and a range of other human rights.  The frequency of anti‑Semitic incidents appears to be increasing in several countries, including online, he said, noting that his report (document A/74/358) is the outcome of consultations in nine countries with victims of anti‑Semitic acts, and leaders of Jewish communities, among others.  The report demonstrates the global nature of the problem and considers anti‑Semitism a multigenerational concern.  While the ways in which anti‑Semitism is manifested have evolved, the ethnic, religious and racialized narratives used to incite violence against Jews throughout history continue to inform anti‑Semitic views today.  Social media platforms enable their extensive dissemination.  Despite the number of cases in which Government officials have reacted responsibly to anti‑Semitic acts — by denouncing anti‑Semitic expression, for example — some Government officials have remained silent, equivocated or even leaned into such sentiments.

Recalling the Holocaust — the ultimate example of religious and racial hatred — he reminded States of their human rights law obligations, including to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion or belief.  He recommended that States enforce hate crime legislation, appoint a senior official to work with Jewish communities and respond to hate crimes and other acts driven by anti‑Semitism, highlighting the role of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and civil society in this regard.  Moreover, he urged the Secretary‑General to appoint a senior‑level focal point to coordinate system-wide efforts to combat this global scourge, stressing that anti‑Semitism presents serious challenges ending all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief.  Therefore, it not only poses risks to Jews, but to minorities everywhere, he asserted.

When the floor opened for questions and comments, the delegate of the Netherlands, associating himself with the European Union, asked the Special Rapporteur how blasphemy laws could be addressed with regard to the freedoms of expression and belief.  Israel’s delegate said that anti‑Semitism is not a new problem and has often been called the “oldest hatred”.  She noted an increase in anti‑Semitism in recent years, in large part due to the Internet and social media.  The ability to spew hate — and not only get away with it but receive praise for it — has made it all the more popular.  “It can be written on one continent and incite violence in another,” she said.  Noting that the report recommends that social media companies should take reports of cyberhate seriously, she asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on the issue and whether he is optimistic about the implementation of the recommendations, as well as what more Member States can do to help.

Ireland’s representative asked the Special Rapporteur to provide examples of how Member States can promote effective civil society coalition‑building to ensure that religious tolerance is addressed in a holistic manner.  The European Union’s representative asked how dialogue can be structured with Jewish organizations, their allies and the United Nations to better combat anti‑Semitism.  Norway’s delegate, on behalf of the Nordic Baltic Group, asked the Special Rapporteur what importance he attaches to using research to fight anti‑Semitism.  Germany’s representative asked about the best measures States can take to combat the spread of hate speech and conspiracy theories online.

The United States delegate, recalling those who perished in attacks on synagogues in Pittsburgh and San Diego, highlighted violations of religious freedoms in Iran, where blasphemy and proselytizing of Muslims by non‑Muslims are crimes punishable by death.  Citing rights abuses against all faiths in China, the delegate asked if that Government had yet agreed to provide the Special Rapporteur with access to Xinjiang.  China’s representative said his Government protects the religious freedom of citizens.  For example, in Xinjiang there are 24,000 mosques and 29,300 clergymen.  Iran’s delegate said Islamophobia is overtaking all other forms of bigotry, mostly thanks to populist politicians and media complacency.  United States politicians in particular are provoking prejudice and intolerance against individuals, including Muslims and their communities, he said.

Mr. SHAHEED replied that with regard to blasphemy laws, there is often a misconception that freedom of expression and religion are antagonistic, when they are actually mutually reinforcing.  To Israel’s representative, he said UNESCO has offered to organize a workshop with the Special Rapporteur on addressing anti‑Semitism through education.  A starting point would be to work with United Nations agencies to engage with communities.  To Ireland’s delegate, he said a United Nations coalition, “Faith Rights Forum”, invites people of all faiths to work together.  To the representative of the European Union, he highlighted the importance of empathy training, noting that Jewish people are not exclusively victims, but rather, also make valuable contributions.  Jewish life should be regarded in all its aspects.  Concerning a visit to Xinjiang, he expressed hope that an invitation will be forthcoming.

Also speaking were representatives of Hungary, Brazil, Qatar, Greece, Poland, Romania, Austria, United Kingdom, Canada and the Russian Federation.

For information media. Not an official record.