9 October 2020

Chairs of Fourth Committee Subsidiary Bodies, Senior Officials Present Agenda Items on Atomic Radiation, Decolonization, Special Political Missions

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) held a virtual meeting today, hearing introductory statements and questions on the effects of atomic radiation, decolonization questions and special political missions.

It also heard introductory statements and held an interactive dialogue on the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.

Effects of Atomic Radiation

GILLIAN HIRTH (Australia), Chair of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, presented the report covering that body’s activities since June 2019 (document A/75/46).  She noted that, due to the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic, the Scientific Committee’s sixty‑seventh session was postponed and will now be held as an online meeting from 2 to 6 November, 2020.  The Committee has seven ongoing projects and about 140 experts engaged in these projects have made good progress using online meetings, she said.

Turning to three draft annexes, namely “Evaluation of medical exposure to ionizing radiation” — “Biological mechanisms relevant for the inference of cancer risks from low‑dose radiation”, and “Levels and effects of radiation exposure due to the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station:  implications of information published since the UNSCEAR 2013 report” — she said they will be suitable for approval for publication during the formal session in November.

The proposed programme of work for 2020‑24, which sets the priority areas for the next five years, will be approved at the formal session, she continued.  It will feature a discussion on the evaluation of occupational exposure to ionizing radiation.  Since the sixty‑sixth session, three new scientific evaluations have been initiated on second primary cancer after radiotherapy, epidemiological studies of radiation and cancer, and public exposure due to ionizing radiation from natural and man‑made sources, she said, adding that the Committee will also receive an update on its strategy for improving data collection, analysis and dissemination.

Report of Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices

SATYAJIT ARJUNA RODRIGO (Sri Lanka), Chair of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, presented that panel’s report (document A/75/199).  He noted that, because of COVID‑19 travel restrictions, the Special Committee was unable to conduct its annual mission to the region and therefore, the report is based on online briefings, written submissions and other documentation.  Turning to Israel’s announcement of its planned annexation of parts of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley, he highlighted strong opposition expressed by Governments, civil society organizations and various other entities.  “This announced de jure annexation, if realized, would further entrench and intensify existing human rights violations against Palestinians,” he said, emphasizing that it would constitute a grave breach of international law.

Expressing alarm at the continued spread of the COVID‑19 in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he noted that almost 50,000 cases have been confirmed as of 30 September.  A number of Palestinian prisoners are reported to have contracted the virus, he said, cautioning that a larger outbreak in Israeli prisons would have dire consequences for Palestinian detainees.  In some cases, excessive use of force, home demolitions, settler violence and night raids have been reported at higher levels than before the pandemic, he added.  In the Gaza Strip, increased transmission of COVID‑19 has placed further strain on the enclave’s fragile health sector, he said, warning:  “Gaza is on the verge of a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe.”  Pointing out the gendered impact of Israeli practices and policies, he said Israeli security forces caused the injury of 125 Palestinian women and 51 girls, and also killed four Palestinian women during the reporting period.  These actions took place mostly in the context of demonstrations and search and arrest operations, he noted.

ILZE BRANDS KEHRIS, Assistant Secretary‑General for Human Rights, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), presented three reports covering the period from 1 June, 2019, to 31 May, 2020.  Beginning with the report on Israel’s practices (document A/75/336), she said it highlights the excessive use of force by the security forces, adding that 83 Palestinians and four Israelis were killed during the reporting period.  “The prohibition of torture is absolute,” she emphasized.  “It applies at all times and to everyone.” Moreover, Israel held 352 Palestinians in administrative detention, she noted, calling upon the country to end the practice.

Presenting a report on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (document A/75/376), she noted that settlement construction plans increased by 7 per cent during the reporting period.  Moreover, demolitions have continued during the COVID‑19 pandemic, as have forced evictions.  With particular concern, the report highlights settlement expansion, demolitions and evictions in and around East Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  Citing Israel’s announced intention to build thousands of settlement housing units in and around East Jerusalem, she pointed out that, if constructed, the settlements would further sever East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and seriously undermine the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian State.

With the floor open for questions, Israel’s representative said the Special Committee’s existence continues to damage the possibility for peace in the region and is counterproductive.  The Special Committee’s operation constitutes a misuse of valuable United Nations funds, he said, stressing that Palestinian “rejectionism” is the source of regional problems.

The Deputy Observer for the State of Palestine emphasized that the Special Committee’s report of countless violations perpetrated by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are not mere words on paper, but constitute serious reflections on the harsh reality faced by people living under a 53‑year occupation.  Citing the Special Committee’s documentation of increased settlement expansion, as well as Israel’s announcement in that regard, she questioned whether annexation measures and plans have been suspended as claimed.

Ms. KEHRIS responded by recalling that the Secretary‑General has stated that annexation would constitute a violation of international law and emphasized that settlements are a major obstacle to a two‑State solution.  The reports under consideration detail the human rights impact of settlements during the reporting period as well as their coercive impact, she said.

Special Political Missions

ROSEMARY DICARLO, Under‑Secretary‑General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, introduced the Secretary-General’s eighth report on “Overall policy matters pertaining to special political missions” (document A/75/312).  She said special political missions are playing their part in the response to COVID‑19.  While ensuring the continuity of critical operations and core mandates, they are supporting the responses of host countries to the virus, protecting United Nations personnel and assisting vulnerable communities.  Noting that travel restrictions have, in some contexts, made it considerably more difficult for missions to support dialogue and carry out preventive diplomacy and peacemaking, she said digital tools have enabled them to engage with a wide range of stakeholders, citing the large‑scale online discussion organized by the Special Envoy for Yemen in June.

She went on to note that special political missions were also able to initiate critical in‑person activities.  In September, talks held in Geneva were instrumental to the agreement between the Yemeni parties on the exchange and release of more than 1,000 prisoners, she recalled.  The Special Envoy for Syria facilitated the Third Meeting of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva in late August, she said.  In Sudan, the United Nations deployed an advance team to Khartoum to continue preparations for the deployment of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), the newest special political mission, she said.

COVID‑19 has made the holding of elections difficult in many countries, she observed, noting that missions with an electoral‑assistance mandates provide advice on mitigation measures.  Missions are also playing a key role in operationalizing the Secretary‑General’s appeal for a global ceasefire, she said, citing Afghanistan, where the Special Representative is engaging in support of the launch of peace negotiations.

Turning to the work of special political missions in implementation of the women, peace and security agenda, she reported, recalling that, in Syria, the Special Envoy facilitated agreements securing close to 30 per cent membership of women in the Constitutional Committee.  In Colombia, the United Nations Verification Mission has engaged actively in the implementation of the Comprehensive Programme of Safeguards for Women Leaders and has promoted activities with women former combatants, she noted.

On peacebuilding and sustaining peace, she reported that the Peacebuilding Fund directed 12 per cent of its investment in 2019 to countries in which special political missions are located.  In Haiti, the Fund now supports key priorities agreed with the Government, including the reduction of community violence, access to justice, and the prevention of electoral violence.  In Burundi, the Fund is supporting local conflict prevention and resolution efforts and enhancing youth and women’s participation in decision‑making, she observed.

ATUL KHARE, Under‑Secretary‑General for Operational Support, noted that special political missions lost two personnel to COVID‑19 and 1,460 cases have been confirmed at 24 missions.  Nevertheless, the Department’s early action ensured robust supply chains to sustain mission operations when much of the world was closing borders and restricting movement, he said.  Regional COVID‑19 treatment centres in Nairobi, Kenya, and San José, Costa Rica, have begun accepting patients, he said, reporting that, in terms of testing, the Secretariat has secured 35 diagnostic testing machines and an initial 50,000 test kits.  Immediate testing access has been provided for personnel and dependents in 18 United Nations duty stations, he added.

Turning to the Secretary‑General’s management reforms, he observed that mission transition processes have directly benefited from a more integrated and effective process.  For example, the Department is working with the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea‑Bissau (UNIOGBIS) to implement the drawdown and closure mandate, the completion of which is expected by the end of 2020.  In Sudan, he added, the Security Council established the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), mandated to assist the country’s transition to democracy.  The planning process included perspectives from 24 different United Nations stakeholders as well as the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the European Union.

During the ensuing interactive dialogue, Morocco’s representative said that his country made an extrabudgetary financial contribution to a multiyear appeal to support the work of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs.  He asked how reform of the United Nations peace and security architecture has impacted the Department’s work and how Member States can best support the Department.

Finland’s representative asked what is urgently needed for special political missions to advance the women, peace and security agenda, as well as the youth, peace and security agenda.  She also asked about best practices and lessons learned regarding such transitions as those occurring in Haiti and Sudan.

Ms. DICARLO said the reforms enabled the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and the Department of Peace Operations to work together, for example, on the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region.  She said the reforms also enabled her Department to work closely with resident coordinators and the Development Coordination Office, contributing to the “One UN” approach.  In terms of support, Member States can protect United Nations personnel working in their countries.

She went on to say the Department is focusing on women’s participation in peace and political processes, including electoral processes, to ensure they play a leading role in political life.  Youth can be included in intercommunal dialogue, with the Peacebuilding Fund supporting a project to bring young people into discussions on their countries’ futures.  On transition, she said missions seek to ensure continuity and expertise.  In Haiti, for instance, the new special political mission retained some personnel who served in the predecessor peacekeeping mission, she pointed out.

Mr. KHARE said the reforms enabled his Department to support all Secretariat entities.  He stressed the importance of handing back environmentally clean sites to host countries.


BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria), Rapporteur of the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, introduced the report on that body’s work during its 2020 session (document A/75/23).  The Special Committee opened its session in February, but because of COVID‑19, it decided to postpone the 2020 Pacific Regional Seminar scheduled for May in Indonesia, he reported.  Without holding meetings at its substantive session in June, the Special Committee adopted its annual report containing all the session’s resolutions and decisions, maintaining its long‑standing practice of making decisions by consensus, he noted.  With 2020 marking the conclusion of the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, the Special Committee recommended that the Fourth Committee commence the Fourth International Decade in 2021.  He added that, with 17 Non‑Self‑Governing Territories remaining on the list under purview, the Special Committee will accelerate its efforts in implementing the Declaration, in coordination with the Territories, administering Powers and other stakeholders.

KEISHA MCGUIRE (Grenada), Chair of the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration of the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, said that due to the restrictions arising from the pandemic, the Special Committee would not be able to hear first‑hand the voices of the Territories under its purview.  Recalling the second self‑determination referendum in New Caledonia on 4 October, she said the Special Committee will continue to support the Nouméa Accord process in order to help the people of that Territory exercise their right to self-determination.  As for the Special Committee’s visiting mission to Montserrat, the resulting report informed the draft resolution on that Territory before the Committee, she said. While the Economic and Social Council was unable to take action on the draft resolution regarding support to Non‑Self‑Governing Territories by specialized agencies and international institutions associated with the United Nations at its 2020 session, the Council was able to adopt the draft, resubmitted under the same agenda item, during the first in‑person meeting of the 2021 session, held on 14 September 2020, she reported.

Also speaking today were representatives of South Africa, Sudan and Nigeria.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 12 October, to hear introductory statements on a range of agenda items.

For information media. Not an official record.