Exposure to Poisonous Pesticides, Heavy Metals
Lead Source of Premature Death, Expert Says, Outlines Preventive Measures
Targeted killings, such as that of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, are emblematic of a global pattern of killings of reporters and activists, and the most important action to take in these cases of “terminal silencing” is to speak up, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, as delegates engaged with mandate holders on the promotion and protection of human rights.
Ms. Callamard observed that since her 2019 investigation, which found Mr. Khashoggi to be “the victim of a planned, organized, well‑resourced, and premeditated extrajudicial killing for which the State of Saudi Arabia must bear responsibility”, there has been no credible accountability, and neither Saudi Arabia nor the United Nations have taken steps to criminally investigate the chain of command behind the operation.
Bringing hitmen to account is not enough; “the focus needs to be the mastermind”, she said, in response to questions. She proposed several initiatives to tackle targeted killings, including a recommendation that the United Nations equip itself with a standing international instrument to investigate them, based on the model of the independent accountability mechanisms for Syria and Myanmar.
In her report, she raised concern about cases in which foreign nationals find themselves facing death sentences abroad, highlighting the critical importance of consular access. Without it, individuals face disadvantages, such as the lack of knowledge of local language and their legal rights, which could prove deadly. She observed that in some cases, where individuals stand accused of terrorism, even abolitionist home States turn out to be tolerant of the death penalty by proxy, deeming such individuals “unworthy of equal human rights protection”.
For his part, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Independent Expert on the protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, expressed concern about continuing prejudice against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons, which is intensifying due to the rise of ultraconservative and ultranationalist groups, who frame them as “others” undermining national cohesion. As a result, LGBT persons face discrimination when trying to access housing, education and employment, he pointed out, adding that their pathologization also renders health services unavailable.
Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, painted a dismal landscape in which toxic substances proliferate unseen, leading to rising rates of deadly diseases such as cancer. Incessant exposure to hazardous substances also poses a grave threat to fertility, he said, pointing to a 50 per cent decline in sperm counts since the 1970s. Citing the case of a Human Rights Committee decision involving 20 people in farms in Paraguay, who suffered exposure to indiscriminately sprayed toxic pesticides, he noted that wealthy countries ban pesticides which they continue to manufacture and export to countries with weaker regulatory systems, impacting their right to life.
Also briefing the Committee today were Fabian Salvioli, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non‑recurrence; David R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment; and Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.
Also today, the Committee continued its general debate on human rights, with Tajikistan’s delegate outlining joint efforts with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to examine the independence of judges, and Libya’s representative pointing to its candidacy for the Human Rights Council term covering 2020‑2022. The representatives of Ukraine, Ethiopia and Brazil also spoke, as did an observer for the State of Palestine.
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) continued its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights today (for background, see Press Release GA/SHC/4266).
Interactive Dialogues — Truth, Justice, Reparations
FABIAN SALVIOLI, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non‑recurrence, presenting his report (document A/74/147) on apologies for gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law, said apologies are “a duty on the part of States” and others who commit violations. He also noted that a public apology is a way to achieve satisfaction, but it should be remembered that it complements, rather than replaces, other measures. Apologies should not serve as an excuse for failure to comply with the responsibilities of truth and justice. Rather, an apology recognizes the harm caused fully, as well as responsibility, repentance and adopting a commitment to non‑repetition, he said, noting that the third chapter of his report identifies the legal framework in this area. It is not possible to refuse to recognize the truth of facts, as this is a precondition for an effective apology.
The timing of apologies is important, he said, noting that symbolic dates, such as anniversaries, are ideal times to offer them. Apologies must be made by those who have the authority to do so; apologies on behalf of other persons could imply a lack of respect and make these apologies invalid. Importantly, victims must be consulted on the form, language, content, place and other elements of apologies. The report underscores a victim‑centred focus, taking into account a gender perspective. Also, the obligations of the State and other institutions do not end when apologies are presented. Rather, further actions — such as building memorials, carrying out judicial processes and sentencing, and providing economic compensation — lead to reparation and must be fully undertaken. Failure to take these steps would have negative repercussions, he said.
Taking the floor for comments and questions, several delegations offered examples of the apology process for gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law in their own countries. The representative of Colombia said her Government carries out public apologies pursuant to the orders of the Inter‑American Court of Human Rights. For victims, it is important to recognize the responsibility for violent acts and demonstrate empathy. This is central in the reparations process, she said. The representative of Spain said that in June 2018, his country announced the establishment of a Directorate General for Historical Memory. Victims organizations now have a centralized department to channel actions towards policies of justice, truth and non‑repetition. He noted Spain’s plan for exhumations with the cooperation of various authorities, stating that more than 2,000 common graves have been identified in which there may be the remains 100,000 individuals. This is a complex job that requires anthropological and genetic work, he said.
Several delegates raised gender issues in the apology process, with the representative of Argentina asking the Special Rapporteur what he believes are the best measures to bring down barriers to women’s participation in all stages of the apology process. In a similar vein, the representative of Ireland, associating with the European Union, said there should be a gender perspective, otherwise there is a danger that such issues may be obscured. He asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on the pitfalls to be avoided when there is a sincere desire to give a public apology.
Other delegates had questions regarding specific moments in the apology process, with the observer for the European Union asking the Special Rapporteur what additional steps could be taken to ensure that further State actions follow an apology. The representative of Switzerland, speaking on behalf of States from the Geneva‑based Group of Friends of the Mandate, acknowledged the importance of ensuring the appropriate resonance of public apologies in both the constituencies of those making and receiving them, and asked about ways to consult those constituencies most effectively. The representative of the United States said that much more must be done to support victims and hold perpetrators accountable, which can include Governments and security forces. He asked how to balance victims’ urgent needs for reparation with the desire to ensure that programmes are comprehensive and address victims in a meaningful way.
Mr. SALVIOLI, responding, commended Colombia for its very good practices with regard to the time, place and method of expressing apologies for gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law. He noted that during the Inter‑American Court of Human Rights proceedings, there were a number of hearings where Colombia’s delegation formally made apologies and asked for forgiveness from someone in attendance.
He also highlighted the importance of the participation of victims, particularly those who have experienced gender‑based violence or gross human rights violations as members of indigenous communities. It is important to understand cultural specificities when working with such communities. To Ireland’s question, he said there are often difficulties regarding sincere apologies. A State official cannot apologize on Monday if another official will deny the facts on Tuesday.
To the representative of Spain, he expressed hope that the measures undertaken will be hastened, particularly due to the age of the families of the victims of the Franco era. They are now elderly and hoping to see the successful exhumation of their loved ones from common graves. The dictator Francisco Franco was exhumed today following recommendations by himself and the former Special Rapporteur.
Also speaking were representatives of France, Belgium, Morocco, El Salvador and China.
VICTOR MADRIGAL‑BORLOZ, Independent Expert on the protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, said around the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people remain excluded and marginalised. Describing prejudice and misconceptions about the nature and moral character of LGBT persons, he expressed concern over the rise of ultraconservative and ultranationalist groups reclaiming so‑called identities at the expense of sexual and gender minorities, challenging advances and preventing the development of laws and policies that include LGBT people. Political and religious leaders often point to LGBT issues as threats to national cohesion, culture and tradition, in particular during periods of political and socioeconomic instability. LGBT persons become the “other”, the “foreign” whose sole purpose is to undermine the national project from within. All these impact on the social inclusion of LGBT individuals and negatively affect their access to health care, education, housing, employment and political participation.
Due to abuse LGBT pupils face at school, including physical violence, social isolation, humiliation and death threats, they are more likely to commit suicide than others, he said, noting that the response of schools is often poor, by intent or by negligence. In the workplace, LGBT persons face discrimination and abuse in all stages of the employment cycle, from hiring to termination, and in the implementation of benefits throughout. As a result, they are forced to conceal their sexual orientation and gender identity, which can lead to anxiety and loss of productivity. They also face higher rates of breast and cervical cancer, HIV infection and mental health concerns, such as anxiety, depression, self‑harm and suicide. The criminalization of consensual same‑sex sexual activities — still a reality in 69 countries — and the pathologization of LGBT people too often render health services unavailable.
And yet, immense progress has been made in recent decades to deconstruct institutionalized discriminatory systems, myths and stereotypes, and to foster inclusion of LGBT individuals, he said. In the past 20 years, 29 countries from all regions have taken steps to decriminalize same‑sex relationships between consenting adults and more than 50 countries have adopted comprehensive anti‑discrimination legislation. Social inclusion requires dismantling all legislation that criminalizes sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, he stressed, urging States to adopt a robust legal framework protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination in all sectors and to prevent discrimination in health, education, employment, housing and access to justice. While States have the primary responsibility to adopt measures to combat violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, civil society and businesses, as well as traditional, community and religious leaders play an invaluable role in supporting inclusion.
In the ensuing debate, the representative of Bolivia, associating herself with the LGBTI Core Group, asked how religious leaders can be involved in promoting social inclusion. On similar lines, the representative of Slovenia asked how to ensure the inclusion of overlooked LGBTI persons, even where anti‑discrimination laws are in place.
The observer for the European Union asked how States can reduce discrimination against LGBT people in housing.
The representative of the Netherlands, associating herself with the European Union, asked how the independent expert works with other Special Rapporteurs to promote awareness‑raising on the issue.
The representative of Spain asked about good national strategies to address the needs of older LGBT people, who are discriminated against by society at large, as well as their own community.
Several representatives, including those of New Zealand, Ireland, and Mexico, asked how to combat violence and discrimination against LGBT persons, and how civil society partnerships can be deployed in this regard.
The representative of Germany, associating with the LGBTI Core Group, asked how LGBTI persons can be protected against hate speech, which is on the rise.
The representative of Iceland, associating himself with the Nordic and Baltic countries, asked what States can do to facilitate decriminalization of same‑sex relations globally.
The representative of the United States welcomed a further discussion on use of the term discrimination, and asked about how States can improve their collection of data on hate crimes against LGBTI people.
The representative of Canada, associating himself with the LGBTI Core Group, asked about examples of existing public policies that have improved access of LGBT people to health care, housing, and education.
The representative of Czech Republic, associating herself with the European Union, asked what can be done to improve the global use of the Yogyakarta Principles on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity.
The representative of Israel asked what authorities can do to assist LGBT youth and ensure that revealing their identity does not result in social exclusion.
The representative of Angola enquired about the reliability of data regarding LGBT people in the report, for example on transsexual women in Angola.
The representative of Belgium asked about best practices to start conversations without polarizing, in the case of people who do not recognize themselves as part of this group.
Mr. MADRIGAL‑BORLOZ, responding to comments made by the representatives of the United States and Angola, said that the issue of data is crucial to his work. There are environments in which data is not being gathered or disaggregated. The best data is that which takes into account the different sensitivities of various lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations. To questions of intersectionality posed by the representatives of Bolivia, Spain and the European Union, he said the report contains specific sections on the issues facing lesbian, bisexual and transgender women; youth; older persons; and migrants, asylum seekers, refugees and victims of disaster. He worked with the Special Rapporteur on the right to housing in order to understand the intersectionality of housing and LGBT issues. In that regard, there are certain best practices that guide non‑discrimination legislation in this area and actors who violate the right to adequate housing should be held accountable.
To the representative of Spain’s comments in relation to ageing persons in the LGBT population, he said that data paints a harrowing picture for older persons. Giving one example, he said that every predictor of cognitive impairment with regard to Alzheimer’s disease is heightened in data on gay men. Those factors include stressors in childhood years, less contact with biological families and having chosen families of the same age and with the same predictors. He gave one example of good practice with regard to ageing persons, citing the diversity framework of Australia, where public policy ensures delivery of services to the elderly LGBT population. This is accompanied by an action plan with benchmarks for progress. To the representative of Iceland, he said that deconstructing punitive systems is a basic requirement, but social integration also depends on adopting conducive frameworks, particularly for populations that are traditionally underserved. In that regard, he expressed deep concern about the lived realities of transgender persons, noting that investment is needed. Citing best practice in that area, he said public policy in Argentina includes transgender persons throughout the gamut of its public services.
The representatives of Australia, Argentina, Luxembourg, Sweden, Georgia, China, the United Kingdom also spoke.
Extrajudicial, Summary, Arbitrary Executions
AGNES CALLAMARD, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, outlined the findings — presented to the Human Rights Council in June — of her 2019 investigation of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which showed him to be “the victim of a planned, organized, well‑resourced, and premeditated extrajudicial killing for which the State of Saudi Arabia must bear responsibility.” While the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia finally acknowledged this last month, “albeit indirectly”, she expressed regret that “to date, the obligation of non‑repetition has not been recognized and implemented, and neither has credible accountability been initiated”. She also voiced regret that neither Saudi Arabia nor the United Nations have taken steps to criminally investigate the chain of command behind the operation leading to Mr. Khashoggi’s execution. This execution, she observed, is “emblematic” of a global pattern of killings which target journalists, human rights defenders and political activists around the world; killings which are denounced by Member States, including through Security Council resolutions. The State has a duty to warn individuals of credible threats against their life, she stressed, outlining various initiatives for tackling the issue, among them, a protocol for the investigation and response to such threats; a Special Procedures Task Force for rapid joint interventions, and a recommendation that the United Nations equip itself with a standing international instrument to investigate targeted killings, based on the model of the independent accountability mechanisms for Syria and Myanmar.
Turning to her report (document A/74/318), on the application of the death penalty to foreign nationals, she outlined challenges faced by individuals in such cases, including unfamiliarity with the local language, legal system, and their rights on arrest. Consular access would mitigate such disadvantages; the lack of such support, where death sentences are concerned, is “deadly”, and impinges on individuals’ universal right to life. “This leads to distinct and complementary obligations on both the prosecuting State and the home State concerned.” Prosecuting States must fulfil their obligations by international law to give foreign nationals access to their consulates — “which is not always best‑settled in practice” — while home States must provide effective consular access, she said, adding that her report cites existing best practices in this emerging norm of customary international law. She expressed concern about cases of foreign nationals accused of terrorism, in which their abolitionist home States are tolerant of the death penalty by proxy, deeming such individuals “unworthy of equal human rights protection”. All States must assist their foreign nationals, she stressed, adding that cases where individuals stand accused of heinous crimes “require greater diligence, not the opposite”. Her report sets out 10 pages of guidelines for providing effective consular assistance in such cases, she added.
In the ensuing discussion, a number of countries, including the observer for the European Union, asked about steps States can take in cases of foreign nationals facing the death sentence abroad. He also asked the Special Rapporteur to outline her planned country visits.
On similar lines, several delegates, including the representatives of Australia and Argentina, drew attention to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, emphasizing the pertinence of Articles 36 and 56 to cases of foreign nationals sentenced to death, and asked how States can be made to comply with their obligations.
The representative of the United States raised concern about impunity in reports of unlawful extrajudicial killings in Burundi, the Philippines, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bangladesh, as well as war crimes perpetrated by the Assad regime in Syria, and asked how civil society actors can be protected from such killings.
A number of delegates pushed back against what they viewed as the Special Rapporteur’s abolitionist bias. The representative of the Russian Federation said that the historical and cultural context of all States must be taken into account, without which dialogues on this sensitive topic are “unproductive, and proposed solutions, irrelevant”. He expressed concern about the “standpoint” of the discussion, which is geared towards abolition and prohibition of the death penalty, a decision to be determined by States, adding that such a standpoint can lead to “fraught confrontation between States”. He condemned the use by some States of “low‑quality lethal injections”.
In a similar vein, the representative of China stressed that the international community must consider States’ social and cultural context, adding that the death penalty is under its domestic purview and only applied in cases where individuals are found to have committed extremely serious crimes.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates expressed concern about section B paragraph 12 of the report, which refers to the death penalty in her country, stressing that laws apply to all persons in its jurisdiction. A fair trial is guaranteed, and non‑citizens are not disproportionately affected by the death penalty, she said.
The representative of Iceland said the report on the killing of Mr. Khashoggi “makes for chilling reading”, and asked how can this horrible event can ensure the freedom of expression is better safeguarded.
The representative of Saudi Arabia said that certain countries making statements appeared to have read “another report”. His country has taken steps to deal with this “painful and regrettable crime”. “Eleven people have been arrested, and the prosecution has asked for the harshest punishment meted out,” he said, adding that representatives of many countries, including France and Turkey attended the trials. Noting that the Special Rapporteur has used “media information which represents negative positions against my country”, he added that “her words have accused our Kingdom without any proof whatsoever”.
Ms. CALLAMARD, responding to the defence of the death penalty by some States, said that international law should be regarded as “at minimum progressively abolitionist”, adding that retentionist States should not interpret Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to hold that the execution of the death sentence is legal. “It is in almost all cases, a violation of Article 7, against torture.” On that front, she added, she agreed with the Russian Federation’s comment against the use of the lethal injection, calling for its immediate repeal. She cited two recent cases in which a State subjected terminally ill people to this “torturous” method of execution.
On questions about the Vienna Convention, she said it places a clear demand on the prosecuting State, but it does not impose a duty on the home State. She cited cases in which foreign nationals notified of their right to receive consular assistance did not, in fact, receive it from their home State. These cases suggest discrimination, either on the basis of identity markers or the nature of the crime.
Regarding objections to her analysis, she emphasized that it is “fact‑based; foreign nationals are disproportionately affected by the death penalty,” she assured. As for steps States must take, she said her report provides 10 pages in this regard. A starting point could be for States to enshrine in their Constitutions or legal frameworks the right to consular assistance when detained abroad.
On Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, she said steps must be taken towards accountability, pointing out that while the representative of Saudi Arabia has indicated a few measures, they do not meet the requirements of international law, including on the issue of transparency. The chain of command must be investigated, she stressed, adding that she places an emphasis on this aspect because Member States and the United Nations repeatedly denounce the killings of journalists — but in all those cases, the “mastermind” is never identified or prosecuted; just “maybe the hitman”. She has suggested to the Secretary‑General that if the United Nations builds on her investigation, doing so could send a strong message to those seeking to “terminally silence” those with whom they have disagreements, adding that impunity must not be allowed to prevail in front of the media or Member States. Not all targeted killings amount to international crimes which mandate universal jurisdiction. However, Mr. Khashoggi’s was found to be in contravention of multiple international laws, including the right to not be tortured and the Charter of the United Nations, which prohibits the use of force in times of peace.
Turning to upcoming visits, she said she is planning to visit Mozambique, and is attempting to negotiate a visit to the United States, adding that Kenya is also on her priority list.
Also speaking in the dialogue were representatives of Mexico, Liechtenstein, Australia, and the United Kingdom.
DAVID R. BOYD, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, said the world is experiencing “a global climate emergency”. Climate change is causing increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. He witnessed the devastating impact of climate change on his first official country visit, to Fiji, in December 2018, where the Vunidogoloa community was one of the first in the world to be entirely relocated because climate change made their previous location uninhabitable. Thousands of Fijians lost their homes to Tropical Cyclone Winston in 2016, the strongest storm ever to reach land in the southern hemisphere. Many now live in informal settlements without access to adequate sanitation, making them vulnerable to waterborne diseases such as cholera. In September, he visited Norway, going out on the land with indigenous Sami reindeer herders, who told him that climate change is making herding much more difficult, undermining an activity at the heart of their culture and economy. His next visit will be to Dominica, where Hurricane Maria damaged more than 90 per cent of homes in 2017.
Such events demonstrate that climate change is adversely affecting human rights across the world, he said. States have obligations to respect and protect human rights. Unless rapid far‑reaching actions are taken to reduce emissions, global temperatures will continue to rise and the impact of climate change on human rights will only worsen. Clearly, a dramatic change of direction is needed. To comply with their human rights obligations and meet the Paris Agreement target of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, States should submit ambitious nationally determined contributions by 2020 that will put the world on track to reducing emissions by at least 45 per cent by 2030. He listed four categories of action that must be taken: Addressing society’s addiction to fossil fuels; accelerating other mitigation actions; protecting vulnerable people from climate effects; and providing unprecedented financial support to least developed countries and small island developing States. Concluding with some good news, he said that thanks to the rapidly decreasing cost of solar panels, wind turbines and batteries, renewable energy is now competitive with fossil fuels in many nations. It is clearly the best choice economically, environmentally and socially, he said.
When the floor opened for questions and comments, several delegates asked about the role of the public and that of human rights defenders in the fight against climate change. The representative of Slovenia, speaking for the Geneva Core group on the resolution on human rights, asked the Special Rapporteur for his views on strengthening the element of public participation in all climate‑related activities, as well as on where the international community is most lagging. The representative of the Czech Republic, associating himself with the European Union, expressed concern over increasing attacks on human rights defenders and asked what could be done to reverse this trend. In a similar vein, an observer for the European Union said a rights‑based approach means that those who protect the environment must be better defended, he said, expressing his alarm over the increasing attacks on such defenders. The representative of Liechtenstein asked about the consequences of climate change on the right to self‑determination.
Representatives from countries facing present danger from climate change shared their experiences, with the representative of Fiji noting that his country was the first to host the Special Rapporteur. It was an opportunity to discuss the challenges Fijians are facing and for the Special Rapporteur to visit the first Fijian community relocated due to climate change. Fiji presented new relocation guidelines at the twenty‑fourth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, giving special consideration to vulnerable groups. The representative of Brazil said “Operação Verde Brasil” has mobilized people, vehicles and airplanes and military persons available to fight fires in the Amazon region. An observer for the State of Palestine said her people’s environmental rights are threatened by the depletion of natural resources, as well as pollution, created by the Israel’s occupation. The occupation has caused environmental damage in occupied Palestine and East Jerusalem. She asked the Special Rapporteur if there is a legal environmental protection framework for those who are forced to live under occupation.
Mr. BOYD, responding, said public participation is at the heart of climate action. He cited good practices, such as the Aarhus Convention of 1998, a regional treaty on public participation and access to justice in environmental matters. The Escazú agreement covers similar issues in Latin America and the Caribbean, although it is not yet in force because only six countries have ratified it. Responding to concerns raised by the representatives of the Czech Republic and the European Union regarding environmental rights defenders, he said that more than 200 defenders are murdered every year, with many thousands more harassed and criminalized. The United Nations declaration on their rights must be implemented. States can aid in this regard by treating human rights defenders not as terrorists or criminals, but rather, as heroes for the environment.
Addressing the question posed by the representative of Liechtenstein, he said that the right to self‑determination is a thorny issue in academic circles and very germane in climate change discussions, particularly related to small island States and especially atoll nations like Kiribati and Tuvalu. From a legal perspective, the question of what happens to that State’s right to self‑determination and exclusive economic zone if land disappears is a question to be addressed, as it has not yet been considered. In addition to Vunidogoloa, there are 40 other communities awaiting relocation, yet Fiji itself has contributed very little to the causes of climate change. It is incumbent on wealthy nations to come up with financial methods. Adaptation and mitigation have been discussed at the United Nations for 27 years, yet as of today, there is “not one dollar” to spend on those issues. However, a number of mechanisms have been proposed. He noted that the Maldives suggested the introduction of an international air passenger levy, adding that if domestic flight prices were raised by $10 and international by $20, this would raise $40‑$100 billion a year that could be allocated to the issue of loss and damage.
To the representative of Brazil, he said that deforestation is an important global issue. There should also be a global effort directed at reforestation, he said, citing the fact that earlier this year, Ethiopia planted 300 million trees in a single day. In response to the question about legal frameworks, he said there is no global recognition of the right to live in a healthy and sustainable environment. At the regional level, there are human rights treaties that address it, including the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which includes the right to a healthy environment.
Also speaking were representatives of the Russian Federation, Bahrain and China. The representative of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) also spoke.
BASKUT TUNCAK, Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, pointed to invisible proliferation of toxic substances that poses a global threat to individuals, communities, and human rights. “The existential nature of our won toxification cannot be over‑emphasized,” he said. In addition to rising rates of cancer, diabetes, asthma, and other deadly conditions, evidence illustrates the grave threat to fertility of incessant exposure to toxic substances, he said, pointing to a 50 per cent decline in sperm counts since the 1970s. Studies are clear on the link between the two. Calling on States to take preventive measures, he stressed that no State will fulfil its obligation to protect human rights without doing so. He described the related rights to bodily integrity and to freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, stressing that prevention is the exception — as seen in Sweden’s national strategy for a non‑toxic environment — not the norm. “People are knowingly exposed to hazardous substances that could be prevented. Legally poisoned,” he said. Personal autonomy over what enters our bodies has eroded over decades of industrialization to such an extent that few people have information about their actual exposures.
His report outlines shortcomings by States to prevent exposure to various toxic threats, he said, such as a consumer product that kills more than 1,000 babies, young women and older persons in one country; air pollution that kills more than the 7 million estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO); plastics and wastes, including microplastics; “forever chemicals” that will harm reproduction for centuries; as well as poisonous pesticides and heavy metals. “This toxic cocktail of pollution is conservatively calculated as the single largest source of premature death in the world, causing and contributing to a silent pandemic of diseases and disabilities,” he warned. Where the State is unable or unwilling to exercise its duty, non‑State actors have a responsibility to prevent exposure to toxins. The United Nations is no exception. Between 1999 and 2013, the Organizations housed 600 members of Roma, Askhali and Egyptian families, displaced during the Kosovo conflict, in camps built on toxic wasteland. The land was well‑known since the 1970s to be contaminated with lead and other poisons. While the United Nations moved quickly to relocate French peacekeeping troops, the families — half of them children — remained housed on this toxic wasteland for 14 years.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, an observer for the European Union said every year millions of people die due to unsafe situations at work, expressing concern over the particular conditions for sanitation workers, who lack adequate access to health care and social protection. Meanwhile, the representative of Angola called on States to ensure better protections for workers, notably by strengthening the global worker protection architecture, particularly for women and children. The representative of Brazil said the Government is improving the framework to protect workers against toxic waste and asked about recommendations for minimizing the toxic exposure of mining workers and mining area residents. The representative of Côte d’Ivoire recalled a toxic disaster in the largest city of his country, underscoring that the Government is implementing the related recommendations and has acceded to various international conventions related to chemical products in order to ensure better protection.
Mr. TUNCAK, responding, said many sanitation workers face dangerous work conditions. Among the best ways to improve risk assessment is to emphasize the hazardous nature of substances, and to move away from cost‑benefit analyses, which lead to workers being unnecessarily exposed to hazardous substances. He welcomed Brazil’s invitation to visit the country.
More broadly, he drew attention to a Human Rights Committee decision on the right to life and a life with dignity. The case involved 20 community members in Paraguay who were exposed to toxic pesticides, indiscriminately sprayed in nearby farms. The exposure led to one death — and much suffering among other community members. In its ruling on the case, the Human Rights Committee reaffirmed that the right to life — and the right to a life with dignity — is violated when a State fails to take adequate measures to prevent exposure to pollution and toxic substances. Many of the pesticides used in Paraguay and other low‑ and middle‑income countries are exported from wealthier countries. Banned from use in these wealthier nations, they nonetheless are manufactured and exported to countries with weaker regulatory systems. Goods produced with these products are then reimported back into these wealthier countries. This is a form of exploitation, an abuse of double standards of protection. Underscoring States’ duty to protect human rights at home and abroad, he called for ending double standards and the resulting human rights violations.
Also speaking were the representatives of China and Eritrea.
Right to Food
HILAL ELVER, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, said that hunger and malnutrition are on the rise for a third year in a row, back to levels last seen almost 10 years ago. One in nine people face hunger; 2 billion people are food insecure. Against this backdrop, she said, the Sustainable Development Goals can help achieve the right to food, among other rights. On the lines of the 2019 SDG Summit, his report (document A/74/164) too finds that “progress towards the Goals is too slow and the world is facing setbacks, even regressing in some areas, such as hunger and malnutrition”. His report aims to apply a “solutions‑oriented lens” to the challenge, starting with tackling global inequality. Climate change has amplified global inequality — by 25 per cent in the past 50 years — in an already unequal world where 1 per cent hoard global wealth and 730 million live in extreme poverty. This trend runs counter to Goal 10, which aims to address inequality within and between countries.
A human‑centric vision of the Goals would prioritize the 2.5 billion people depending on agriculture for subsistence and livelihoods, she said. However, rising food prices and corruption, cuts to fuel and food subsidies and austerity measures are exacerbating inequality, stirring unrest and humanitarian crises around the world. Fiscal policies that redistribute wealth will alleviate the situation, resolving “over 75 per cent of global poverty”, she said. States must also expand access to social protection systems, as less than half the world’s population is effectively protected by legally enforceable social protections, with coverage limited by institutional capacity or enforcement. Moreover, strategic policies are needed to empower vulnerable groups facing institutionalized discrimination, including rural communities, women, and indigenous peoples. She outlined solutions for implementing the right to food, touching on accountability, oversight and ensuring that private sector involvement is regulated. Multi‑stakeholder partnerships often lack transparency and are subject to unaccountable international adjudication. Stressing the link between the right to food and human rights, she called for the systematic integration of the Human Rights Council, treaty bodies and special procedures into national planning on the Sustainable Development Goals.
When the floor opened for questions and comments, the representative of Venezuela, speaking for the Non‑Aligned Movement, said that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the right to food as a human right. He called on the international community to work towards making the right to food a reality in all countries. An observer for the European Union said he is aware of the importance of developing multi‑stakeholder approaches to ensure the universal right to food. Common agricultural and fisheries policies provide stable, high‑quality food at affordable prices to more than 500 million Europeans. He asked the Special Rapporteur how she assesses current international cooperation for policies at all levels to improve food systems.
The representative of Ireland, associating herself with the European Union, said that women are more likely to experience food and nutrition insecurity. She asked the Special Rapporteur about best practices that have been identified when incorporating gender perspectives into policies that address food insecurity. The representative of Morocco asked what measures could be taken to prevent food insecurity, as well as grave food shortages and malnutrition in poor rural areas.
The representative of Azerbaijan, associating herself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said that the aggression against her country has forced more than 1 million people to flee their homes, which created a drag on the economy. The Government has taken measures to increase protection of internally displaced persons, as well as reforms in the agricultural sector in order to increase farmer incomes. There is no food scarcity in Azerbaijan, as the Special Rapporteur’s report notes, she said, adding that she is looking forward to reading the final report on her country.
Also speaking in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Norway, China, Eritrea and Cuba.
Ms. ELVER, responding to comments about Venezuela, said that as the unilateral sanctions imposed do not affect the Government of Venezuela, but rather, lower‑ and middle‑class citizens, they contravene human rights principles. The General Assembly should consider these unilateral sanctions which Venezuela, Cuba, Zimbabwe and other countries are facing. Pointing out that no European Union country has included the right to food in its Constitution, she said that, in contrast, there are high numbers of food insecure people in Europe; they are not only in developing countries. She underscored the importance of the regional organizations law, welcoming Ireland’s recognition of women’s role in agriculture and stressing the need for gender‑sensitive budgeting and access to land. Recalling her trip to Azerbaijan, an important oil producer with 10 million people, 1 million of whom are internally displaced persons, she stressed the link between the oil production and climate change.
ALISHER BAKHTIYORZODA (Tajikistan) said the Human Rights Council should promote human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinctions. He condemned all forms of discrimination, in particular racism and xenophobia, which are an insult to human dignity. He noted the central role of the United Nations in combatting human trafficking, adding that more attention should be paid to the victims of that practice. Tajikistan has been working with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and cooperates with the Special Rapporteurs, eight of whom have visited the country, examining the independence of judges and lawyers, violence against women, disability issues and torture.
NADYA RIFAAT RASHEED, observer for the State of Palestine, said that in her second report to the General Assembly, the Special Rapporteur presents an analysis of accountability, impunity and the responsibility of the international community to help end the occupation and other Israeli practices amounting to violations of international humanitarian law and human rights. She welcomed recommendations for the international community to take countermeasures, notably sanctions, underscoring that this entrenched situation has inflicted immense human suffering and undermined all efforts for both realizing a just peace and fulfilling the rights of Palestinians.
Mr. HERASYMENKO (Ukraine) said that as a country where the Russian Federation’s armed aggression has caused a serious deterioration of the human rights situation, particularly in the occupied territories, there is a need for the continued and active involvement of United Nations human rights mechanisms. Dozens of Ukrainian citizens have been arbitrarily detained in Crimea under false charges and unlawfully transferred to the territory of the Russian Federation. According to the Secretary‑General’s report, the Russian Federation encourages the transfer of its own population to the peninsula, which is a direct violation of the Geneva Conventions and a clear attempt to change the demographic structure of Crimea. He urged the Russian Federation to stop transferring its population to Crimea and to firmly adhere to its obligations under international humanitarian law.
INASS A. T. ELMARMURI (Libya) said that her country is a signatory to the main human rights instruments and, at the same time, insists on the primacy of national legislation and of the national religion. In this context, she pointed to attempts within the Third Committee to include concepts that are not subject to consensus. Libya is a candidate for the Human Rights Council term covering 2020‑2022 and will work to enshrine such principles in all State practices. The war ravaging Libya has threatened the implementation of its socioeconomic plans. The international community must help Libya bring an end to foreign interference and “silence the guns” so that peace and security return.
MEKURIA GETACHEW WORKU (Ethiopia), endorsing the statements by the African Group and the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said his country is party to the nine core United Nations human rights instruments. Following recent political reforms, Ethiopia has taken various measures to investigate violations, which has led to the arrest of members of the National Intelligence and Security Service, the police and prison administrators for their mistreatment of prisoners. These arrests mark a paradigm shift in the Government’s commitment to prohibit torture. Equally important is the widening of political space to create a democratic society, he said, noting that previously exiled political parties have been invited to return to the country.
RICARDO DE SOUZA MONTEIRO (Brazil) said that in his electoral platform, “Path of Prosperity”, the President stated his promise to build a prosperous society based on the principles of solidarity, tolerance and individual responsibility, and a commitment to human rights, democracy and freedom. Touching on the “Happy Child” programme, he more broadly reiterated Brazil’s support for women during pregnancy, and to reducing teenage suicide through public‑awareness campaigns. He expressed support for the family, especially those in vulnerable socioeconomic conditions, noting that many Brazilian families are headed by one parent, often a woman. Pledging to fight violence against women, he highlighted the value of international cooperation and multilateralism in protecting human rights.