General Assembly: Third Committee

Note: Following is a partial summary of today’s meetings of the General Assembly Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural). A complete summary of today’s Third Committee meetings will be available later today, following the conclusion of the afternoon meeting, as Press Release GA/SHC/4239.


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) met today to continue its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights.   For more information, please see Press Release GA/SHC/4235.

Interactive Dialogues — Right to Education

KOUMBOU BOLY BARRY, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, said the fact that half of the world’s 25.4 million refugees are under the age of 18 calls for medium- and long-term approaches to refugee education.  This would foster peaceful and sustainable development in host countries, as well as reconstruction in countries afflicted by conflict, through the return of educated and qualified populations.  Only 61 per cent of refugees have access to primary education, as opposed the 91 per cent of children worldwide.  Education must be an integral part of emergency responses to refugee crises, she said, stressing that the responsibility to guarantee inclusive quality education to refugees clearly lies with States, as per international treaties.  She expressed support for the 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants as it will improve assistance for refugees and host countries in an international framework.

When possible, education plans and institutions should anticipate and address refugees’ cultural and linguistic differences, she said.  It is important that refugee children be able to register directly with schools, and that education plans include flexible learning methods, such as accelerated, non-formal and transitional education.  Investments in local education to include refugees have the dual benefit of ensuring young refugees lasting to certified education and improving the learning environment for children from the hosting community.  States should also take steps to ensure refugee families are properly integrated into communities, notably by granting them work permits.  It is particularly important to ensure that refugee girls have access to school, at all levels, she stressed.

When the floor was opened for questions, the representative of Qatar drew attention to programmes that help refugee girls join school, stressing the importance of providing education to the youngest children living in vulnerable situations.  States should expedite legislation to guarantee documents for refugees, she said.

The representative of the United Kingdom cited her country’s support of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  In 2018, the United Kingdom also endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration and the Vancouver Principles on Peacekeeping and the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers.  She asked how to ensure sufficient data collection on access and quality education around the world.

The representative of the European Union underscored the importance of considering the long-term educational system for refugees, noting that the bloc allocates over 6 per cent of aid to financing education in emergencies and asking about good practices to address this challenge.  Refugee girls face a greater disadvantage than boys with lower literacy and he asked for ideas on bridging this gap.

The representative of Indonesia spotlighted his country’s role in providing education within the humanitarian system but described bureaucratic and financing issues around Sustainable Development Goal 4.  He asked about the benefits of the Internet and modern technology for refugee education and about ensuring refugees’ involvement in the planning of programmes relating to their right to education.

The representative of Morocco asked about special educational systems provided to refugees, and about professional requirements to be satisfied through education.  He also wondered how to guarantee recognition of educational certificates in second countries.

The representative of Cuba noted that Cuba guaranteed universal access to education to all Cubans on 1 January 1995 as a fundamental right.  However, guaranteeing quality education for all is limited due to the United States blockade.

The representative of Estonia said local governments provide basic education to all children, including refugees, expressing concern over difficulties in attaining education and noting that Estonia carries out education programmes for young Syrians.  She asked about extending globally the “Instant Network Schools” initiative offering online education, and if so, how to support it.

The representative of Portugal said access to education is a basic human right and of utmost importance.  Describing a global platform founded in 2013 for Syrian students to continue their studies in Portugal and other countries, he also drew attention to a rapid response mechanism for higher education in emergencies, and asked how to support refugees in national education systems.

The representative of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), describing the importance of the “Building Bridges, Not Walls” report, asked what Governments should prioritize in mainstreaming education into their policies.

The representative of Hungary highlighted the importance of national minorities and the right to education in their mother tongue, which is a “stepping stone” to their inclusion.  Schools and kindergarten play a prominent role in transforming national language and culture.  Education can break the cycle of conflicts, he said, asking how minority education can benefit society as a whole.

The representative of Ukraine, touching on education reform, said his country pays special national minorities.  It introduced new standards for obtaining higher education in the occupied territories.

Ms. KOUMBOU BOLY BARRY responding to questions about inclusion and best practices for children with disabilities and minority issues, as well as the quality of education and training for teachers, said issues centre broadly around curricula, tolerance and peace.

In terms of inclusion, she said educating girl refugees is critical and requires a predictable budget, especially because girls need additional protection and a safe space.  The curriculum for girls must include teaching self-confidence, as they need to know that they can survive.  In addition, training teachers through a gender approach will in turn help girls reach their full potential.  She underscored the need to include children with disabilities, stressing that teachers must be trained how to address their needs.  On the integration of refugees into the general education system, she said States must budget and consider planning, and importantly, craft educational policies that include refugees.  Teacher training should be carried out along thematic issues, such as values, and include guidance on addressing one’s own emotions when working with refugees.  Decisions about national data collection systems must also be considered, she said.

Extreme Poverty

PHILIP ALSTON, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said the privatization agenda has been remarkably successful in recent years and is promoted aggressively by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), parts of the United Nations and the private sector.  The logic of privatization assumes no necessary limits as to what can be privatized:  social protection, education, pensions systems, parks and libraries, among other areas, have been targeted.  Yet, privatization is premised on assumptions fundamentally different from those that underpin human rights — profit is the overriding objective.  Civil society has a vital role to play, but cannot shoulder the burden on its own, as it lacks adequate resources and authority.  From the viewpoint of those living in poverty or who are vulnerable to human rights violations, the overall picture of privatization is far from positive, despite the many success stories.

For example, he said, human rights standards are rarely included in privatization agreements.  Business performance is carefully tracked but studies on the impact on rights and poverty are rare.  A fully human rights-compliant regulatory regime cannot be transferred to the private sector.  He warned against the private sector’s unwillingness to take on rights-related obligations, the inability of pared‑down Governments to exercise meaningful supervision and the removal of much economic decision-making from the purview of democratic contestation.  Privatization also undermines democracy by marginalizing the role of Governments in deciding on the allocation of public goods and services.  This situation calls for a different set of responses from the human rights community.  The arrangements for privatization of public goods should specifically address human rights implications. Its impact on human rights and poor and marginalized communities should be systematically studied.  He called on private and public actors involved with privatization to set appropriate standards ensuring the collection and publication of data on the practice’s human rights impacts.

The representative of the European Union, noting that extreme poverty is a multi-faceted issue requiring a multi-faceted response, said it is also intrinsically linked to discrimination.  Half of all people living in poverty are young girls under 18 years old, many of whom have lower literacy.  He asked for examples of successful initiatives targeting girls living in poverty.

The representative of South Africa said there is little indication that human rights monitoring bodies have done much.  However, extreme poverty has eased considerably since 1990.  Stressing the importance of effective and transparent governance, as well as good fiscal governance, she asked about accountability in the corporate sector where human rights are violated by business activities.

The representative of Eritrea welcomed the report on privatization and reaffirmed support for the work of the Special Rapporteur.

Mr. ALSTON replied that there is a close link between efforts to end poverty and promote the Sustainable Development Goals.  He expressed worry that the process of monitoring progress on the Goals does not appear to hold States accountable.

Responding to a question about the girl child, he said the World Bank acknowledges a critique that its $1.90 poverty threshold is insufficient and that it fails to disaggregate within a household.  For example, a household could be considered as above the poverty threshold — however, the male head of household receives the lion’s share of the food and other resources, while women, children and the girl child receive much less.  It is essential to look at what is happening inside the household, where women and girls fare worse.  Not nearly enough has been done in that respect.  Much less attention is given to the gender dimensions of poverty than one than would expect, despite the rhetoric around this issue.

It is difficult to monitor human rights, he continued.  When privatized, monitoring bodies are poorly equipped to understand actual conditions and set standards that companies will acknowledge and promote.  Companies cannot monitor themselves; monitoring bodies must hold them to account.  On broader fiscal matters, she described the human rights implications of the United States 2017 tax cuts.  The human rights community must end its aversion to engaging with the fiscal community on complex economic issues.

KORNELIOS KORNELIOU (Cyprus) said that during Turkey’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus, basic human rights were brutally violated, together with the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.  Some 200,000 Greek Cypriots are internally displaced, denied the right to return to home.  The unlawful exploitation of their properties, along with Turkey’s deliberate policy of colonizing the occupied areas, with more than 160,000 mainland Turkish settlers, aim to change the island’s demographic character.  The remaining enclaved persons experience daily violations of their family life, freedom of expression, religion and property rights.  Churches are vandalized and worshippers intimidated.  Missing persons is a humanitarian issue and a major concern, as the remains of two-thirds of 2,001 missing persons have yet to be found.  Preservation of cultural heritage is imperative for the protection of human rights.

Ms. THEOFILI (Greece), associating herself with the European Union, said her country is fully committed to defend and promote the fundamental principles and values enshrined in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Aiming at maximizing cooperation with the United Nations, Greece has extended a standing invitation to international human rights mechanisms.  The Government implements an open, transparent and coherent human rights policy, based on the principles of equality, diversity and non-discrimination.  In response to the migratory and refugee crisis, Greece will continue coordinating with all relevant stakeholders, including local communities, with an emphasis on burden sharing, addressing the causes and saving lives.  Greece prioritizes the protection of the most vulnerable groups within the migratory flows, especially pregnant women, unaccompanied children and persons with disabilities.

MIN THIEN (Myanmar), noting that his country has dealt with internal armed conflicts since independence in 1948 and lived for decades under authoritarian rule, said the rule of law is essential.  Through its peace process, the Government is holding Union Peace Conferences and signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement. Myanmar has spared no effort to nurture democratic norms, having acceded to various international conventions and agreements, notably the Paris Principles on children associated with armed forces or armed groups. It is Myanmar’s top priority to take action for the early repatriation of verified displaced persons from Rakhine State; it has been ready to receive verified returnees since 23 January.  To alleged human rights violations in Rakhine State, he reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to ensuring accountability “where there is evidence” of such abuse.

Ms. BEGALA (Cameroon) recalled that under its resolution to strengthen the treaty bodies, the General Assembly proposed that a simplified reporting procedure be used to elaborate reports and hold interactive dialogues. Cameroon accepted the proposal. Citing two recent reports on torture and the Human Rights Committee, she said the simplified procedure saves time, reducing delays.  Conscious of the role that treaty bodies play in delivering human rights, Cameroon is ready to help strengthen the system, she said, noting that the country will continue to submit its reports on time under each of the human rights conventions.

Mr. YAREMENKO (Ukraine) expressed condolences to the victims and their families of the recent deadly attack in Crimea.  In the occupied territory, he urged human rights mechanisms to address such issues and invited those missions to follow such developments on the ground.  The Russian Federation continues to apply its legislation in Crimea, he said, stressing that violations of civil, social and economic rights are widespread.  Dozens of peoples are being unlawfully detained in Crimea, among them Oleg Sentsov, a political prisoner.  Expressing gratitude to the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights for his appeals to save Mr. Sentsov, he expressed hope that Mr. Sentsov’s situation will remain a focus.  He expressed regret that United Nations monitoring missions must carry out their work from the mainland, as access to the peninsula has been denied.  In the Donbass region, Ukraine suffers from indiscriminate mines, he added.

Ms. TUFFA (Ethiopia), associating with the African Group and the “Group of 77” and China, said the Constitution gives equal recognition to the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals and groups.  Ethiopia has implemented its first National Human Rights Action Plan and adopted the Second National Human Rights Action Plan (2016-2020) in December 2016.  The action plan now under implementation provides directions for carrying out rights-centred development activities, and mechanisms to strengthen human rights institutions, notably by forging stronger collaboration with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  The pace and breadth of democratic change in Ethiopia are extraordinary, he said, stressing that the Government has released high-profile political leaders, made peace with Eritrea after two decades of hostility, and encouraged exiled opposition politicians to return home and participate in the country’s socio-economic and political affairs.

Ms. MAKWABE (South Africa) aligning with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, the African Group and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), drew attention to the significant strides made in strengthening the treaty system.  On the monitoring body, she said the guidelines must take a broader view and incorporate other stakeholders.  On racism, racial discrimination and other forms of intolerance, the use of technology should be addressed, as it regrettably aided in the spread of hatred.  Member States should take legal measures to criminalize hate speech and movements, she said, noting that South Africa is devising an action plan to combat racism and crimes through the Internet and social media.  As contemporary forms of racism are on the rise, she stressed the importance of additional protocols to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Right of Reply

The representative of Turkey, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said her counterpart from Greece presented a one-sided interpretation of history and current affairs.  Turkish Cypriots face human rights violations and many are displaced.  They showed a commitment to negotiations to resolve the issue, while United Nations mechanisms are being manipulated by Greek Cypriots to incorrectly portray the situation.  She called on the international community to immediately end this injustice.

The representative of Cyprus voiced regret over Turkey’s opposition to the international community and numerous Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.  The issues in Cyprus resulted from Turkey’s illegal occupation.  She called on that country to align itself with relevant United Nations resolutions.

The Russian Federation said Ukraine’s delegate had made a mistake regarding the name of “the Republic of Crimea, which is part of the Russian Federation”.  His country is meeting all its obligations under international human rights agreements, he assured.  Measures were taken to monitor human rights and bring perpetrators to justice.  Ukrainian authorities should regulate the human rights situation in their own country, he said, calling for rejection of Ukraine’s politicized and provocative initiative on a General Assembly resolution.

The representative of Ukraine reiterated that the Russian Federation is an occupying power.  Criticizing the ongoing propaganda in Russian media, he said no delegation in the room needs to be convinced that Ukraine is suffering from Russian occupation.

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