5 November 2020
Seventy-fifth Session, 21st & 22nd Meetings (AM & PM)

General Assembly Decides to Hold High-level Special Session in Response to COVID-19 Pandemic, 3-4 December

Delegates Pass Measure by 150 in Favour to None against, with Three Abstentions

The General Assembly decided today that Headquarters will host a special session at the level of Heads of State and Government on 3 and 4 December in response to the COVID‑19 pandemic.  It also debated the annual report of the Human Rights Council and earmarked 1 December for a special solemn meeting in memory of the victims of the Second World War.

Adopting the draft resolution “Special session of the General Assembly in response to the coronavirus disease (COVID‑19) pandemic” by a vote of 150 in favour to none against, with three abstentions (Armenia, Israel, United States), it decided that the opening segment will feature statements by its President, the Secretary‑General, the Presidents of the Economic and Social Council and the Security Council, and the Chair of the Non‑Aligned Movement.

In addition to a general debate, the special session will include a presentation by the heads of the World Health Organization (WHO) and other relevant United Nations entities, who will also lead an interactive dialogue on inter‑agency efforts to address the global pandemic and its impacts.

The resolution stipulates that Member States can submit pre‑recorded statements by their respective Head of State or Government, head of delegation or other dignitary, to be played in the General Assembly Hall during the opening and general debate, following introductions by their representatives physically present in the Assembly Hall.

By recorded votes, the Assembly rejected three draft amendments introduced by Armenia, Israel and United States.

Also today, the Assembly adopted the resolution “Seventy‑fifth anniversary of the end of the Second World War” without a vote, which requests that the President hold a special solemn meeting of the Assembly on 1 December in commemoration of all victims of the war.

Prior to the adoption, by a vote of 54 in favour to 40 against, with 45 abstentions, the Assembly amended the draft to delete a preambular paragraph by which it would have noted the inadmissibility of desecration or destruction of monuments erected in remembrance of those who fought in the Second World War on the side of the United Nations.

Introducing the Human Rights Council’s report, Elisabeth Tichy‑Fisslberger (Austria), President of the Geneva‑based organ, said it has found innovative ways to deliver on its mandate amidst the pandemic.  The Council was the last entity to go into lockdown in March, and the first to resume activities in June, she said, reporting that it held its forty‑fourth regular session in hybrid form.  Over three sessions this year, the Council adopted 97 resolutions, 72 without a vote, and four decisions.

She went on to note that the Council extended the mandates of special procedures on human rights situations in Syria, Burundi and Yemen, as well as the mandates of independent fact‑finding missions on Libya and Venezuela.  Meanwhile, it ended the mandate of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, where the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) now has a field presence and a country office.  Turning to the universal periodic review process — which she described as “the jewel in the crown” of the Council — she said it enjoys “political will at the highest level” and that its next session, postponed in May due to the pandemic, will begin this month.

The European Union’s representative recalled the Assembly’s election on 13 October of 15 Member States to three‑year terms on the Human Rights Council (see Press Release GA/12277).  While noting that no State has a perfect human rights record, she said the newcomers are expected to engage in the Council’s work with self‑reflection and an eye to improving their own implementation of human rights, she said.

The Russian Federation’s representative, whose country is among those elected, said it is unfortunate that the Council has proven effective as an instrument for Western States to pursue short‑term political goals.  The Russian Federation will do everything possible to restore faith in the Council and the tenor of its work, he vowed.

Mexico’s representative said that, as a re‑elected member, his country has endeavoured to promote international cooperation and to create synergies with international law.  However, he expressed regret over the prevalence of “certain political attitudes, which undermine what brings us together”.

The United Kingdom’s representative, speaking as a newly elected member, said the international community must be open to the views and experiences of Member States, providing them with needed access rather than forcing them to face reprisals.

In other business, the Assembly took note of the annual report of the Economic and Social Council, introduced by Mona Juul (Norway), President of its 2020 session.

Also speaking today were representatives of Mexico, Pakistan, Qatar, Liechtenstein, Ukraine, Switzerland, Algeria, Austria, Cuba, Bangladesh, El Salvador, Malaysia, Philippines, Belarus, Costa Rica, Myanmar, India, Argentina, Turkey, Iran, Kenya, Georgia, Venezuela, Egypt, Maldives and Syria.

Speaking in explanation of position were representatives of Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Germany (on behalf of the European Union), United Kingdom, Russian Federation, Israel, Mexico, United States, El Salvador, Ecuador, Canada, Kyrgyzstan, Indonesia and Ukraine.

Representatives of Bangladesh and Myanmar spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 11 November, to consider the report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and take action on a related draft resolution.

Report of the Economic and Social Council

MONA JUUL (Norway), President of the Economic and Social Council, presented the report of its 2020 session (document A/75/3), explaining that in the face of the COVID‑19 pandemic, the Council sought ways to continue its work for the benefit of people and planet, including by scaling down or modifying various events and forums.  Among other things, she pointed to the Financing for Development Forum convened in April in a virtual format.  It was followed in May by the Operational Activities for Development segment, which paved the way for a new Assembly resolution on the quadrennial comprehensive policy review process and a discussion of country responses to the pandemic.  During the humanitarian affairs segment, a call to action to fight the pandemic was joined by 173 delegations, along with the African Union and the European Union, while the integration segment considered policy proposals and analyses from the Council’s subsidiary bodies.

She said the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, the core United Nations platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, convened in July, also in virtual form.  It featured a three-day ministerial segment as well as the presentation by 47 countries of voluntary national reviews of their implementation of the Goals.  Deliberations focused on the ongoing Decade of Action to deliver on the Goals.  Due to COVID‑19, progress towards sustainable development is being reversed and the road ahead is steeper, but the 2030 Agenda remains a road map for emerging from the pandemic.  She went on to stress the Council’s efforts to reinforce cooperation with other United Nations bodies, adding that creative ways must be found to facilitate the participation of civil society in the Council’s work as the pandemic continues.

The representative of Mexico said that in many spheres, the Council achieved its goals.  Noting that Mexico is a Vice-President of the Council, he emphasized the challenge of ensuring that the pandemic does not stand in the way of strengthening multilateralism.  Never has the ability to adapt been more important than it is now.  He expressed regret that the High-level Political Forum was unable to produce a ministerial declaration due to disagreements over a virtual voting process.  Aligning intergovernmental forums with the 2030 Agenda is another challenge, he said, emphasizing that with the Decade of Action now under way, there is no time to lose.

The representative of Pakistan said the Council is heading in the right direction to achieve its development mandate, noting that country was a part of the bureau during virtual meetings focused on this mandate.

The General Assembly then took note of the report of the Economic and Social Council (A/75/3 Part I and Part II) and the Secretary‑General’s note on the implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences and summits in the economic, social and related fields.

Action — Strengthening of the United Nations System

The Assembly then took up the draft resolution “Special session of the General Assembly in response to the coronavirus disease (COVID‑19) pandemic” (document A/75/L.12), through which it would decide that a special session of the Assembly on the pandemic at the level of Heads of State and Government would be held on 3 and 4 December at Headquarters.  The special session would feature, among other things, an opening segment, a general debate, and a presentation by the Head of the World Health Organization (WHO), who would also lead an interactive dialogue.  Delivering statements during the opening segment would be the president of the General Assembly, the Secretary‑General, the Presidents of the Economic and Social Council and the Security Council, and the Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement.

VOLKAN BOZKIR (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, introducing the text, stressed the importance of broad support for the event in sending a message that the Assembly could act as a catalyst for action to combat the pandemic.  Action against the virus will constitute a historic moment in multilateralism, he said, including not only Member States but civil society, the private sector and academia.  The second day will consist of multi-stakeholder platforms with diverse information and views, so that the gathering can take stock and forge a path forward.  Adding that the summit will be a belated first step in tackling the pandemic, he said the world cannot stand idly by, as its consequences will impact generations to come.

The Secretariat read oral corrections to the text.

The representative of Armenia introduced a draft amendment (document A/75/L.12) to replace operative paragraph 3(b) with language that would include the Head of WHO among those who would deliver statements at the opening of the special session.

The representative of Israel then introduced a draft amendment (document A/75/L.13) that would replace, in operative paragraph 3(c), the words “Member States, observer States and the European Union”, and in operative paragraph 4(a), replace the words “each Member State, observer State and the European Union” with the words “Member States and observers of the General Assembly”, thus reverting to the language contained in the first draft circulated during consultations.

The representative of the United States introduced an oral amendment to “L.8” that would, in preambular paragraph 4, delete the words “including the crucial role played by the World Health Organization”.  Such a change would restore balance to references to United Nations agencies in the text, she said, emphasizing the need for a whole-of-United Nations approach to a pandemic that is not only a test of multilateralism, but the United Nations system itself.

The representative of Azerbaijan, in an explanation of vote before the vote, said the initiative for a special session was put forward on 13 May by his delegation on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement.  He pointed out that the amendment proposed by Armenia in “L.12” was intended to delete from operative paragraph 3(b) the Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement from the list of those who would deliver statements at the opening of the special session.  He added that during six rounds of informal consultations, not a single delegation except Armenia questioned the participation of the Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement in the opening segment.  He went on to request a recorded vote on “L.12”.

The representative of Pakistan, noting that “L.8” reflected the broadest agreement among Member States on the modalities of the special session, said his delegation is unable to support “L.12”.

The Assembly then took action on “L.12”, rejecting it by a vote of 74 against to 2 in favour (Armenia, Cyprus), with 62 abstentions.

It then took action on “L.13”.

The representative of Israel asked which delegation had requested a recorded vote.

Mr. BOZKIR replied that a written request for a recorded vote had been submitted by Mauritania on behalf of the Arab Group.

The Assembly then rejected “L.13” by a vote of 118 against to 7 in favour (Australia, Canada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, United States), with 11 abstentions.

The Assembly then took action on the oral amendment proposed by the United States.

The representative of the Russian Federation, disagreeing with that proposed amendment, stated that “L.8” had been negotiated in difficult circumstances and reflected a fragile balance.

The Assembly then rejected the oral amendment proposed by the United States by a vote of 125 against to 2 in favour (Côte d’Ivoire, United States), with 7 abstentions (Botswana, Brazil, Ghana, Guatemala, Papua New Guinea, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone).

The Assembly went on to adopt “L.8” as a whole by a vote of 150 in favour to none against, with 3 abstentions (Armenia, Israel, United States).

The representative of Germany, speaking on behalf of the European Union, in an explanation of vote after the vote, said the Assembly needs a united, inclusive response that stresses the central role of the United Nations system in responding to the pandemic and rebuilding better.  The participation of the Emergency Relief Coordinator and the OHCHR in the interactive dialogue is a must.  The participation of civil society and relevant stakeholders is also crucial during the special session’s general debate and interactive dialogue.  Any objections to organizations being included in the list must be clearly explained in a transparent manner.  He expressed concern over the way in which non‑objection clauses have been abused, stressing that the European Union does not deny the right to object per se, but believes this right cannot be exercised in an arbitrary manner.  Concrete reasons must be provided for objecting to the participation of civil society in the discussion.  The final decision on the list of civil society organizations must be made by the Assembly itself, and not a single Member State.

He also insisted on the equal participation of all participants throughout the special session.  The European Union would have preferred to limit statements in the opening segment to those by United Nations institutions, with priority given to the most pertinent actors within the United Nations system on this occasion.

Speaking after the vote, the representative of the United Kingdom said he voted in favour of the resolution, but it is important that all relevant stakeholders come together to address the impact of the pandemic.  He expressed concern about the lack of transparency on the language used to exclude civil society participation, stressing that concrete reasons must be supplied, especially as the Assembly President has said that diverse voices should be heard in the Assembly Hall.  Meaningful participation requires expansive language on civil society participation, he explained, underscoring the crucial role civil society has played, and will continue to play, in fighting the pandemic.

The representative of the Russian Federation supported the notion to convene a summit on the COVID‑19 pandemic, as the international community must combat the negative effects of such a dangerous disease.  However, he expressed disappointment that negotiations in the final phase lacked transparency and balance.  He opposed politicization of a special session meant to strengthen international cooperation.

The representative of Israel expressed support for the notion of convening a summit to address the pandemic.  However, he expressed regret that Israel had to abstain from the modality resolution and disassociate itself from operative paragraph 3(c).

The representative of Mexico said he voted against amendments made by Israel to operative paragraphs 3(c) and 4(a), as the special session on the pandemic must involve all delegations.  Adding that the future resolution must be more inclusive in terms of relevant stakeholders, he expressed support for including the Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement.

The representative of the United States stressed that civil society plays a fundamental role in the collective response to the pandemic.  However, language that elevates the participation of one organization is not acceptable.  She also stated her disagreement with the use of the non-objection clause to prevent participation of some civil society organizations.  The leadership of the General Assembly needs to listen to the concerns of Member States.  Any objections to the participation of civil society organizations should be transparent.

The representative of El Salvador said her country abstained from the vote on the amendment to operative paragraph 3(b), as the Chair of the Non‑Aligned Movement should be allowed to convene the pandemic summit.  El Salvador recognizes the importance of responding to the pandemic, she said, but the international community needs more effective measures to combat its negative ramifications.  In addition, operative paragraph 8 must be action‑oriented.

The representative of Ecuador voiced support for including the Director General of WHO to convene the pandemic summit, but noted that the Non‑Aligned Movement objected to this, as the convener should be that organization’s Chair.

Seventy-fifth Anniversary of the End of the Second World War

Next, the General Assembly took up the draft resolution “Seventy-fifth anniversary of the end of the Second World War” (document A/75/L.6).  By its terms, the Assembly would invite Member States, organizations of the United Nations system, non-governmental organizations and individuals to observe the anniversary in an appropriate manner to pay tribute to all victims of the Second World War.  It would also request the President of the Assembly to hold a special solemn meeting of the Assembly on 1 December in commemoration of all victims of the war.

A draft amendment (document A/75/L.6) would delete preambular paragraph 5 of “L.6”.  That paragraph would have the Assembly emphasize that the victory in the Second World War is the common legacy of all Member States of the United Nations, and note, in this regard, the importance of preservation and inadmissibility of desecration or destruction of monuments erected in remembrance of those who fought in that war on the side of the United Nations.

A second draft amendment (document A/75/L.10) would replace preambular paragraph 2 to recall that the Second World War “brought untold sorrow to humankind, particularly in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Pacific and other parts of the world.”

The representative of the Russian Federation, introducing “L.4”, recalled that the colossal tragedy of the Second World War gave rise to the United Nations.  “We do not have the right to forget history,” he said, emphasizing that remembering the victims of the conflict is a duty for all.  The Assembly held similar meetings every five years in May, but the pandemic altered plans for this year.  He requested a vote on “L.6,” adding that “L.10” contained a constructive proposal from the United States that can be included in “L.4” by way of an oral amendment.

The representative of Germany, introducing the draft amendment “L.6”, expressed strong support for the aim of the main text, but also noted her grave concern that preambular paragraph 5, adopted by consensus in the past, has been politicized with non-negotiated language.  She recalled that the Second World War led to painful divisions in Europe and beyond.  If adopted, the proposed amendment would bring the text back to the agreed language that was adopted by consensus in 2015 at the Assembly’s seventieth session.

The representative of the United States withdrew “L.10”.

The representative of Belarus said that the introduction of “L.6” was disappointing.  Preserving the memory of the war is a shared duty and priority.  However, it is baffling that several countries want to delete language that stresses the importance of preventing the destruction of monuments erected in memory of those who fought on the side of the United Nations, he remarked.

The representative of Canada said that the Second World War was not only a war to stop aggression and expansionism in Europe and beyond, but also a struggle in pursuit of essential freedoms.  The Charter of the United Nations, with its contemporarily relevant and universal values, is not a victory for those involved in the war, but a victory for all countries large and small.  Describing the COVID‑19 pandemic as one of the biggest global challenges since the war, she said that Charter — and what it stands for — must be respected and defended now more than ever.

The representative of the United Kingdom agreed with the overall intent of “L.4” to commemorate the victims of the war with a solemn meeting of the Assembly, but echoed concerns about the politicized and controversial language in preambular paragraph 5.  He agreed that nobody has the right to forget history, adding, however, that nobody has a right to rewrite history either.

The representative of Germany noted that the Second World War is a common legacy of all, in memory of all those who fought and died in it.  Today, however, fascist monuments are being erected and criminals are supporting the Nazis.  History is being rewritten in hideous forms.  It is painful to witness countries like Georgia and Ukraine – which fought against the Nazis - among those supporting the amendment.  He called on nations to vote against the resolution.

The representative of Kyrgyzstan, acknowledging the seventy‑fifth anniversary of the end of the Second World War - the greatest tragedy of the twentieth century – said nations have a duty to preserve the truth about it, and to pass on lessons learned from it.  Stressing the importance of honouring the memory of its victims, she said Kyrgyzstan opposes the amendment.

The Assembly then adopted the draft amendment “L.6” by a vote of 54 in favour to 40 against, with 45 abstentions.

It then adopted “L.4” as amended without a vote.

Speaking in explanation of vote after the vote, the representative of the United Kingdom, noting he had been unhappy with the politicized language, said he was pleased the resolution has been amended to achieve international unity.

The delegate of Germany, speaking on behalf of the European Union and other States, observed that the resolution had been negotiated for a long time, adding that she was happy the resolution was amended for consensual adoption.

The delegate of Indonesia said he shares a sense of the resolution’s historical importance.  It is important to show how the international community can work together, he added.  Countries may have different perspectives.  A peaceful solution to the dialogue is needed.

The representative of Ukraine said his country sacrificed much during the Second World War and made a large contribution to liberate its native soil and other countries.  He also said that Ukraine is proud to be a founding member of the United Nations.  The drafting process was far from ideal.  History should be left to the historians.  His country condemns all cynical attempts by the Russian Federation, he added.

The representative of the United States disassociated his country from preambular paragraph 4 of “L.4”, saying that its reference to decolonization is not related to the topic at hand.  While the United Nations had played a role in the decolonization process, decolonization is better determined by a territory and its administering Power than by a United Nations body.

Introduction of Report — Human Rights Council President

ELISABETH TICHY-FISSLBERGER (Austria), President of the Human Rights Council, presenting the intergovernmental body’s annual report (document A/75/53/Add.1), said that since the lockdowns imposed in response to the COVID‑19 pandemic, the Council found innovative ways to deliver on its mandates.  It extended mandates to avoid any gap in protection and adopted a draft decision under a silence procedure on 29 May.  Special procedures mandate holders remained active throughout the lockdown, releasing communications and carrying out joint initiatives where their concerns overlapped with those of other mandate holders.

Recalling that the Council was the last organization to go into lockdown in Geneva in March, and the first to resume its activities in June, she said its forty‑fourth regular session was held in hybrid format — part virtually, and part in‑person — with strictly enforced precautionary measures, including mandatory wearing of masks and contact tracing, which were subsequently taken up by other bodies at the United Nations.  She outlined work that the Council carried out during its three sessions held this year, including four decisions and 97 resolutions, of which 72 were adopted without a vote.  Despite all odds, the Council addressed a wide range of human rights issues, including some that had never been on its agenda.  For instance, in October, it passed a resolution on “Promoting, protecting and respecting women’s and girls’ full enjoyment of human rights in humanitarian situations”.

The Council also played a particularly important role on accountability, she said, adding that it extended by one year the mandates of special procedures on the situations of human rights in Syria, Burundi and Yemen.  It has also extended, by one year, the mandate of the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya, and that of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela by two years.  However, it ended the mandate of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, where OHCHR has established field presences and a country office.  Calling the universal periodic review “the jewel in the crown” of the Council, she said it enjoys “political will at the highest level”, and will hold the next session of its third cycle — postponed in May — this month, barring unforeseen circumstances.

Turning to the liquidity crisis, she said it has impacted the Council’s activities significantly.  It has stringently curbed lunchtime meetings “to a fraction” and has led to a reduction in the duration of universal periodic review sessions.  It has also cast a shadow on the work of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, she said, adding that certain activities mandated by the Council cannot be implemented in 2020.  Despite the massive impact the pandemic has had on multilateral institutions, “the Council has shown its resilience and adaptability in carrying out its mandate and ensuring that human rights challenges are not overlooked in the quicksand of other developments,” she said.

Mr. BOZKIR said the pandemic is not just a health crisis but a human rights crisis that affects the most vulnerable people.  The pandemic has revealed the structural inequalities and obstacles facing society.  He commended the Human Rights Council for reacting swiftly after the pandemic, adding that it was the first intergovernmental body to resume its work and adopt a new hybrid model.  The responses to the pandemic must be universal, transparent and inclusive, he stressed.  All stakeholders must be involved in providing feedback to identify which people are suffering.  It is necessary to protect these communities and prepare for the next global challenge.  It is also important to protect women and girls during the pandemic.  This meeting is an opportunity to learn from people across the ocean.


Ms. CASTAN of the European Union underscored the key role that the Council and its special procedures played in addressing the COVID‑19 pandemic, adding that the bloc strongly supports the full and effective implementation of the Secretary‑General’s call to action on human rights, which he delivered to the Council on 24 February.  She emphasized that the European Union will continue to call for justice and condemn human rights abuses, as it has in situations concerning the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Syria and Belarus.

On the recent election of new Council members, she said that they have a special responsibility to uphold the highest standards of human rights.  No State has a perfect human rights record, but the newcomers are expected to engage in the Council’s work with self‑reflection and an eye to improving their own implementation of human rights.  She encouraged all Member States to cooperate with the special procedures and called upon those that have not yet done so to extend standing invitations to them.  All States, including those on the Council, must respect civil society and human rights defenders.

ALYA AHMED SAIF AL-THANI (Qatar) underscored her country’s human rights initiatives, including the establishment by the Assembly, during its seventy‑fourth session, of the International Day to Protect Education from Attack.  She also pointed to Qatar’s promotion of human rights through sport in its capacity as host of the World Cup in 2022.  She attributed the unjust blockade on Qatar by other States in the region for more than 4,275 human rights violations against its citizens, including on the right to freedom of movement and family reunification.

MYRIAM OEHRI (Liechtenstein) said the Council’s holding of two urgent debates in 2020 — on systemic racism and police brutality and on the human rights situation in Belarus — shows the Council keeps addressing human rights situations in a timely and effective manner, despite the pandemic.  This debate is an important annual opportunity for the Assembly to engage with the Council on its substantive work and evaluate its institutional role in the Organization’s framework.  However, she said he remained concerned about grave human rights violations, including in Myanmar and Syria, as documented in the Council’s special procedures and accountability mechanisms.  She also welcomed the Council’s support of accountability efforts, including important steps taken by the International Criminal Court in the context of forced deportation, and the International Court of Justice, under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, in its resolution 43/26.

YURIY VITRENKO (Ukraine), stressing the need for Member States to adhere to high standards of human rights, said that any deviations to this position would weaken the Human Rights Council.  In view of today’s challenges, it is important to ensure that the Council enhances its response to threats, humanitarian needs and human rights.  The international community needs a Council that can be a genuine platform for human rights violations, including those in nations suffering from Russian occupation.  He noted that comprehensive and timely reports on Crimea had been drawn up by the Secretary‑General and submitted to the Council, which provide a dramatic account of human rights violations committed by the occupying Power.  Ukraine has presented an updated resolution based on Crimea and would appreciate the support of all Member States, he said.

ADRIAN HAURI (Switzerland) congratulated the Council on its work on identifying the pandemic’s impact on human rights over the past year.  Reiterating that only a human rights‑based approach can provide sustainable solutions, he said his country continues to advocate for adequate funding of the human rights pillar, both within the Fifth Committee and through voluntary contributions to OHCHR.  States should cooperate with all Human Rights Council bodies and mechanisms, including its commissions of inquiry and fact‑finding missions.  The special procedures of the Council also play a key role in the fulfilment of its mandate.  With expertise and independent analysis, the special procedures contribute to the development of international human rights standards and foster a better understanding of specific human rights‑related themes.  They also provide technical cooperation guidance and serve as one of the main sources of information on human rights situations around the world.

AHLEM SARA CHARIKHI (Algeria) said her Government is fully committed to enhancing the work of the Human Rights Council, including its support for the right to development.  Algeria cooperates fully and engages constructively, as borne out by the invitation extended to 13 mandate holders to visit the country.  She noted that Algeria just adopted its new Constitution with measures to strengthen human rights and ensure the independence of judges.  The Council mandate must be applied on the principle of international cooperation and objectivity, she said, adding that prevention of violations requires building solid societies, especially with regard to developing States.  Calling for caution on any artificial linkages between the Council and other United Nations bodies, she noted the increasingly non-consensual nature of its work and expressed hope for that to improve.

JOCHEN HANS-JOACHIM ALMOSLECHNER (Austria) said that ensuring respect for human rights and combating violations should be an important priority for all Member States.  In light of the twenty‑fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, he commended members of the Council’s Bureau for ensuring the smooth continuation of its work, despite challenging conditions due to the COVID‑19 pandemic and lockdown measures in various nations.  He conveyed his country’s best wishes for the successful continuation of the Council’s work.

ANA SILVIA RODRÍGUEZ ABASCAL (Cuba) said the Council’s selective approach threatens to delegitimize it.  Moreover, some countries purport to use the Council and its special procedures to a hegemonic end.  As a result, developing countries are rendered invisible, while a complicit silence prevails over abuses that occur in developed countries.  “Selectivity by special procedures mandate holders leads to confrontation,” she said, adding that dialogue on an equal footing — as facilitated by the universal periodic review — helps identify common challenges and engenders agreement.  Despite the genocidal 60‑year blockade by the United States, Cuba continues to promote and protect the rights of its citizens.  The Council must do more to promote the right to development, peace, international solidarity and a healthy environment, she said, adding that as a member of the Council, it will defend the right of countries to peace, development and self‑determination.

RABAB FATIMA (Bangladesh) commended the Council’s work during the pandemic and its efforts to ensure its accountability.  As a member of the Council, Bangladesh is actively engaged in the Council’s work.  The Council needs to bring coherence to its work in Geneva, she said, adding she hopes the universal periodic review will address the concerns.  Bangladesh is party to 8 of the 9 human rights treaties and has made strengthening compliance with human rights a national priority.  It has intensified its engagement with the universal periodic review, and during the third cycle developed a national implementation plan.  It has also made an unwavering commitment to more than 1 million Rohingya who fled Myanmar in the face of grave human rights violations.  They deserve protection and a right to dignity and to return to their homeland.  She called on Myanmar to fulfil its obligations.  The Council can only be successful and achieve its objectives through a collaborative approach.

MAYRA LISSETH SORTO ROSALES (El Salvador) cited the thematic diversity of initiatives presented by Member States, promoting inclusive debate and upholding the inalienable rights of all peoples in all places.  She specified principles important to her Government, including the rights of children, migrants, women and girls, and food and cultural rights.  She also highlighted the priority of the rights of girls, boys and migrant teenagers, which El Salvador presented in the forty-fifth session of the Council.  She also noted that the unprecedented COVID‑19 pandemic requires a global response that also safeguards human rights everywhere.

MOHD HAFIZ BIN OTHMAN (Malaysia) said that meetings postponed until 2021 due to the COVID‑19 pandemic should not affect the Council bureau’s good work.  The Council is suffering financial constraints due to its high workload, he said, emphasizing that contingency measures instituted to address this should be fair and transparent.  Malaysia hosted four visits in the last four years by the Council, as well as one by the High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2019.  Considering the differences between developed and developing countries, he recommended continued discussions on the Council’s work programme.

JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico) said that as a recently re-elected member of the Council, his country has endeavoured to promote international cooperation and create synergies with international law.  In its work with the Council, Mexico has consistently promoted gender equality.  However, he expressed regret over the prevalence of “certain political attitudes, which undermine what brings us together”, underlining the valuable work by special procedures mandate holders and calling for more openness to international scrutiny.  Moreover, States must opt for cooperation rather than confrontation, he said, underscoring his conviction in the power of multilateralism.

KIRA CHRISTIANNE DANGANAN AZUCENA (Philippines) said human rights issues should be addressed through a non‑confrontational, non‑politicized, dialogue‑based approach, and expressed concern about the Human Rights Council’s practice of selective adoption of country‑specific resolutions that do not have the support of the country concerned.  “These resolutions fail to have any meaningful benefit on the ground, and [are] an unproductive use of the United Nations’ finite resources,” she stressed, adding that the universal periodic review is the appropriate mechanism to review human rights issues, with the full involvement of the country concerned, and with due consideration given to its capacity‑building needs.

ROMAN G. KASHAEV (Russian Federation) pointed to problems and trends in the work of the Council, including its unconcealed use by Western countries as an instrument of pressure on sovereign States to enact regime change.  He noted recent actions during States’ elections, asking why the Council believes it can decide which elections are fair, a gross violation of its own resolutions and the Charter of the United Nations.  He also cited disturbing efforts to reform the Council from outside the General Assembly, including by sending its reports to any United Nations body.  Reiterating the call to respect the division of labour among bodies, he said it is unfortunate that the Council has proven to be an effective instrument for Western States to achieve short-term political goals, increasingly putting its reputation to the test.  The Russian Federation will do everything possible to restore faith in the Council and the tenor of its work.

ARTSIOM TOZIK (Belarus) said the Council’s range of priorities does not always reflect modern challenges.  Politically‑motivated initiatives prevail.  Pointing out that the Council is mainly focused on civilian and political rights, he said it must seek balance in examining all categories of rights and take decisive steps to review its functioning.  It requires a unified agenda as well as a more balanced work programme, he said, voicing concern that it is currently overloaded with political and selective discussions on country‑specific situations.  He rejected country‑selective resolutions and use of the Council as an instrument to exert pressure on sovereign Governments.

MARITZA CHAN VALVERDE (Costa Rica) said the COVID‑19 epidemic and its accompanying loss of life has exposed and exacerbated vulnerabilities and inequalities related to economic and climatic threats, which have disproportionately impacted children, women and migrants.  The Council held a virtual debate during its recent session on racism and police, as well as rights of the child and persons with disabilities.  Costa Rica continues to follow human rights in neighbouring Latin American countries, she said, emphasizing the importance of peaceful protests as well as freedom of assembly and expression.

TUN LIN SWAI (Myanmar) said the resolution concerning his country, which was adopted during the Council’s forty‑third session, did not reach consensus, adding that he rejected it “due to its ignorance of valid facts on the ground, including development”.  Such action does not help address challenges faced by Myanmar, which is trying to bring about sustained peace and development in Rakhine State.  He said his country shares the concerns voiced by the international community about human rights issues triggered in Rakhine State since 2016.  “However, it is our problem, and we have to solve it,” he stressed.  The international community can help strengthen capacity and enhance technical support.  He called on Bangladesh to “act in good faith”, instead of seeking to prompt the international community into applying “international punitive pressure, including sanctions” on Myanmar.  “Your pressure tactics are counterproductive, so stop finger‑pointing,” he said.

ASHISH SHARMA (India) said the Council’s strength rests on dialogue and cooperation in all areas, pointing out that his country has always favoured an inclusive and constructive approach.  Human rights must be addressed without interference in national affairs and respect for sovereignty.  The universal periodic review is proving productive, and India has presented in each of the three reviews.  The right to life has been undermined by terrorism.  Ideologies of hatred have left no country free from that threat.  The Council has recognized access to medicine as a human right — an important factor during the pandemic, he said — noting India’s significant capacity to produce vaccines.  The Council can also help create human rights in new areas, such as outer space, he said, adding that India’s approach to human rights is evolving through legislation and the interpretation of laws through the judiciary.

MARÍA DEL CARMEN SQUEFF (Argentina) said the defence of human rights is not only the spine of a Government, but of the State as a whole.  She expressed support for the periodic review as an objective tool of the system and for strengthening the rights of the elderly and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.  She also noted efforts to continue the Council session despite the pandemic, as well as the adoption of resolutions, including those on the central role of States in pandemics and emergencies, enforced disappearances and the rights of children.  Underscoring that, in the wake of the Durban Declaration, Argentina adopted in 2005 a document for a national plan on discrimination, she reiterated a robust commitment to multilateralism as an essential tool to protect human rights.

SERHAD VARLI (Turkey) said the work of the Human Rights Council to promote and protect human rights is needed now more than ever.  Since its creation, the Council has made important progress in human rights, he noted, highlighting a strong interlinkage between peace and security, sustainable development and human rights.  Supporting efforts aimed at improving the Council’s efficiency, he pointed to the universal periodic review that puts all countries on an equal footing in reviewing their human rights situation.  Turkey conducted its third periodic review in January, he added, underscoring Turkey’s long-standing commitment to cooperate with the relevant international mechanisms for the protection and promotion of human rights.  He expressed support for the simplified reporting procedure that ensures that the process focuses on the most relevant issues.

MOHAMMAD ZAREIAN (Iran) said the Human Rights Council has become politicized, issuing a litany of meaningless and destructive reports.  He stressed the importance of a dialogue with the United Nations and its agencies, to be conducted in a non‑politicized, transparent manner without naming or shaming other nations.  He underscored that this practice, as seen especially in the Security Council, is neither constructive nor useful.  Moreover, the international community and its partners should support national affairs rather than instituting measures like sanctions, which hinder the achievement of development goals and undermine the daily life of ordinary citizens, not to mention human rights.  His country believes in freedom of expression that does not incite hatred against others, such as destructive remarks by politicians directed at other nations, he said.

JOHN KYOVI MUTUA (Kenya) said lasting peace can be built through a transparent, non-selective approach, and through the use of universally accepted mechanisms such as the universal periodic review.  His country encourages all peacebuilding measures that are undertaken on the basis of inclusive, intergovernmental principles.  States that hinder the economic, social and cultural rights of other States during the pandemic must re-examine their stance.  He also reaffirmed Kenya’s support for the Arusha Peace Accord and called for a “people-centered multilateralism” to address global challenges.

ELENE AGLADZE (Georgia) said the pandemic has illuminated the fragile nature of society and its interconnectedness, while increasing the threats to rights and freedoms.  The Council holds an immense role in building society back up.  Noting that Georgia has submitted its third universal periodic review, she said that the Council cannot be efficient without civil society involvement.  In the digital era, there is a significant misuse of the digital space through hate speech and cyberbullying.  The effective work of the Council depends on the universal contribution of all States.  The resolution on “Cooperation with Georgia” (43/37), adopted during the forty‑third session, calls for immediate access for OHCHR and other international and national human rights mechanisms to the occupied areas of Georgia.  Yet, this has not been granted and the areas continue to suffer violation of human rights.  The Russian Federation, the Power exercising effective control over Abkhazia and Tskhinvali, prevents OHCHR and other monitoring mechanisms from entering both occupied regions.  The Council’s strong leadership on this matter is the only way to prevent the situation on the ground from deteriorating further.

ROBERT ALEXANDER POVEDA BRITO (Venezuela) expressed gratitude for the reports produced during three sessions of the Human Rights Council in 2020.  He also noted its increasing importance in policy formation, a pillar of the United Nations.  As a member of the Council, Venezuela is working to increase the quality of outcomes and is also aware of threats to the universal system.  He reiterated a steadfast commitment to human rights in their universality, non-politicization and objectivity.  Denouncing the criminal imposition of unilateral coercive measures that affect peoples as a whole, he also reiterated a rejection of the imposition of instruments and mechanisms against the will of the State to fuel an agenda of internal destabilization, which has been opposed by the international community.  He renewed a call for an end to the double standards that befell the preceding Human Rights Commission.

AHMED FAHMY ABDELGAYED SHAHIN (Egypt) stressed the importance of overcoming the paralysis of politicization.  He also criticized efforts to pursue narrow political goals.  It was crucial to promote human rights rather than imposing concepts that reflect only certain countries and a supremacist vision.  “No country is spared human right violations,” he asserted, highlighting the role of the Council in enriching international dialogue.  The mechanisms of the Council must be preserved, in particular the universal periodic review and special procedures, he stressed, expressing his opposition to the proliferation of new”?] mechanisms at the expense of the existing ones.  Warning against double standards, he recalled resolutions on human rights situations in certain countries that do not have a chance to examine those resolutions.  If the Council strayed from its mandate, it would discourage Member States from participating in its work, he pointed out, warning against burdening the Human Rights Council with responsibilities.

TIMOTHY JAMES SYLVESTER (United Kingdom) stressed that the Human Rights Council is shining a spotlight on the world’s worst human rights violations.  It is also seeking to improve access to technical assistance and capacity-building for countries striving to boost their human rights record.  The international community must be open to the views and experiences of Member States, providing them with needed access rather than forcing them to face reprisals.

THILMEEZA HUSSAIN (Maldives) said the COVID‑19 pandemic has laid bare the inadequacy of the global safety net and fragility of progress towards critical human rights targets.  As the international community marks the twenty‑fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration, it does so in the sobering reality of an unprecedented pandemic that has prevented the achievement of, or rolled back, progress achieved over decades of hard work.  In many instances, these inadequacies have impacted women disproportionately.  The barriers to women’s and girls’ empowerment are systemic and persistent, requiring targeted investments in the root, societal causes of gender‑based discrimination.  This means prioritizing the financial inclusion of women, and gender parity in education and leadership positions, both to achieve progress and provide a stronger safety net for their future.

WAEL AL KHALIL (Syria) said parts of the report, pertaining to the human rights situations in countries, reflect a confrontational and discriminatory approach, and lack integrity.  Countries involved with the resolution relating to Syria use it as a pretext to present their version of realities in the country, he said, adding that he rejects the findings of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, as this body “lacks integrity and professionalism”.  On agenda item 7, which addresses the human rights situation in Palestine, he said it is linked to Israel’s expansion of settlement activity, which he called on the Council to identify and condemn.  He underlined the importance of cooperation, as reflected in mechanisms such as the universal periodic review.  He took issue with certain measures taken by the Human Rights Council, including informal channels opened with the Security Council in July.  In addition, he expressed regret over the manner in which the President of the Human Rights Council conducted the debate on the President’s Statement on the human rights implications of COVID‑19, as it was discriminatory and ignored proposals by States on the effects of foreign occupation and sanctions.

Right of Reply

The representative of Bangladesh said it is unfortunate that Myanmar makes a response whenever Bangladesh states facts, and then wastes the Assembly’s time.  Its objective is to deflect attention from the situation.  “Facts remain facts and stories remain stories,” he said.  The situation has a serious impact on Bangladesh, which is hosting more than 1 million Rohingya.  Myanmar has avoided its responsibility and has not taken steps to assure the safe return of the Rohingya to their homes.

The representative of Myanmar expressed regret that Bangladesh is exerting political pressure on Myanmar instead of finding a lasting solution.  Myanmar has tried to solve the situation despite the clear presence of terrorist groups in the camps in Bangladesh.  Stressing that there has been extensive media coverage on this matter, he said the terrorist presence in the camps causes problems for both Bangladesh and Myanmar.  Myanmar has always been willing to work with Bangladesh to ensure a smooth repatriation process, he assured, categorically rejecting the statement by his counterpart from Bangladesh.

The representative of Bangladesh said he strongly rejects allegations by his counterpart from Myanmar regarding claims of terrorist groups inside the camps.  Such allegations are meant to divert attention from the situation.  There is no basis for such a statement.  Bangladesh has maintained a zero‑tolerance policy against terrorists that attempt subversive activities against any neighbouring country, including Myanmar.

For information media. Not an official record.