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Filippo Grandi said the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework annexed to the landmark 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants provided the new model that placed the rights, interests and potential of refugees at the heart of a comprehensive response.  It was time for change, and the international community appeared to be converging around directions it must pursue, which included easing pressure on host countries and communities, enhancing refugee self‑reliance; expanding resettlement and other third‑country solutions, and creating conditions conducive to voluntary return, he asserted.

As the Committee opened its general debate on the matter, Italy’s delegate pressed the international community to recognize that emergency humanitarian assistance must be complemented by long‑term development responses.  He expressed full support for the “paradigm shift” in responding to forced displacement presented by the new Framework.  Indeed, the number of people who had fled their homes in 2016 was 65.6 million, said the representative of the European Union, adding that 2018 must be a “showcase for collective action”.  South Africa’s delegate said on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) the consequences of refugee outflows disproportionately affected the developing world.

Earlier in the day, the Committee concluded its general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, with delegates focusing on self‑determination.  Many also addressed the particular dangers refugees faced from discriminatory attitudes, with Nigeria’s representative urging both transit and destination countries to treat them with dignity and respect, regardless of their nationality and immigration status.  It was a point echoed by Thailand’s representative, who underscored that social harmony would only come about through dialogue between migrants and host communities.

Also speaking in the general debate on racism and self‑determination were the delegations of Ukraine, Venezuela, Togo, Armenia, Algeria, Morocco, Azerbaijan and the United Arab Emirates.

Also speaking in the general debate on the report of the High Commissioner for Refugees were representatives of Saudi Arabia, Japan, Switzerland, Colombia, Brazil, Australia, Eritrea, Iraq, Russian Federation, United States, Syria, Afghanistan, Viet Nam, Kenya, Iran, Algeria, Belarus and Turkey.

The representatives of Armenia, Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Algeria and Morocco spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 2 November, to continue its dialogue with the High Commissioner for Refugees and take up the report of the Human Rights Council.

Background

The Third Committee met today to continue its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights.  (For more information, please see Press Release GA/SHC/4215).

The Committee also had before it the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (A/72/12), the Report of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (A/72/12/Add.1) and the Report of the Secretary‑General on Assistance to refugees, returnees and displaced persons in Africa (A/72/354).

Statements

ALEXANDER TEMITOPE ADEYEMI AJAYI (Nigeria), associating himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the Constitution prohibited any form of discrimination based on race, nationality, ethnic origin or tribe.  Urging States to recommit to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, he said they formed the normative basis for global efforts to eliminate racial discrimination, along with the universal ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  Nigeria condemned racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance against refugees and migrants, and urged both transit and destination countries to treat them with dignity and respect, regardless of their nationality and immigration status.

DARYNA HORBACHOVA (Ukraine), associating herself with the European Union, said national legislation guaranteed full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms without distinction of race, colour, nationality or ethnicity.  As racism and discrimination persisted around the world, there was an urgent need to ensure effective application of existing legislation, and to foster closer cooperation between Governments and civil society.  Russian forces occupying the Crimean Peninsula and Sevastopol had mounted campaigns against ethnic Ukrainians and the Crimean Tatar community, she said, adding that the Russian Federation was attempting to impose ethnic dominance on the peninsula.  Ukraine had filed an application in the International Court of Justice to hold the Russian Federation accountable for its actions, she affirmed, urging that country to immediately halt all acts of racial discrimination on persons in the occupied territories.

ROBERT ALEXANDER POVEDA BRITO (Venezuela), associating himself with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), and the Group of 77 and China, affirmed his commitment to promoting a world free of racism and discrimination, adding that cultural diversity was the true path towards peace.  Racism and xenophobia exacerbated violence.  Stressing that technology allowed messages of hate to spread easily, increasing tension and undermining efforts to achieve peace, he said migrants were often victims of discrimination.  Venezuela was working establish a multicultural society free of discrimination, he stressed, adding that a law against racial discrimination had been passed and a related institute was consolidating the instructional architecture on the matter.

KOMLAN AGBELÉNKON NARTEH-MESSAN (Togo) said his Government was committed to implementing international mechanisms to combat racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was developing innovative approaches, yet challenges persisted.  He welcomed global condemnation of acts commemorating the Nazi regime and said migrants and asylum seekers continued to be disproportionately affected by discrimination.  Togo’s Constitution outlined measures to combat that behaviour and ensured equality before the law for all citizens.  Legislative and regulatory measures were also being taken to combat racial discrimination.

THIRANAT SUCHARIKUL (Thailand) said global events had contributed to the rise in racial discrimination and stereotypes, and called for joint efforts to cultivate openness, tolerance and respect.  Thailand’s Constitution guaranteed all persons were equal before the law and the Government was committed to implementing obligations under the International Convention.  Thailand would also continue to improve the situation of migrants and displaced persons, she noted, stressing that social harmony would only come about through dialogue between migrants and host communities.  Strong societies were based on social harmony, she emphasized.

LILIT GRIGORYAN (Armenia) said threats to human security on the basis of racist or xenophobic hatred should be perceived not just as crimes against specific individuals but also as threats to global stability.  The most dangerous form of racial hatred toward other nations was the “institutionalization of racism” by openly encouraging prosecution of ethnic or religious groups, nations or races.  That was exactly what Azerbaijan promoted.  The struggle of the people of Nagorno‑Karabakh for self‑determination and freedom by the “despotic regime” of Azerbaijan exemplified how the use of force could only exacerbate the situation and trap parties into protracted conflict.  Human rights and fundamental freedoms of people residing in conflict areas should be upheld regardless of the legal status of the territories, she said.

NORA IMANE BELLOUT (Algeria) said violating the right to self‑determination was a form of racism.  That right was a compulsory rule of international law enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  At a time when conditions were favourable, a free and integrated study could be carried out to help people exercise the right to self‑determination.  Voting was the only way to express self‑determination, she said, calling for that right to be upheld through referendum for all people living under occupation.  Western Sahara had been under occupation for more than four decades, she added.

OMAR KADIRI (Morocco) said there was a double standard when it came to implementing self‑determination.  That principle had been inscribed into two General Assembly resolutions in 1960:  resolution 1514, to overcome the concerns of States, and 1541, which focused on implementation.  The goal was to put into place guidelines for exercising the right to self‑determination.  Assembly resolution 2625, of 1970, reiterated that self‑determination could not encourage action that would threaten the territorial integrity of any sovereign State.  Despite legal and practical changes, self‑determination remained subject to legal interpretations.  The Kabyle people had been deprived of self‑determination, while Algeria was focused on the Sahrawi.

HABIB MIKAYILLI (Azerbaijan) drew attention to the ethnic cleansing carried out against Azerbaijanis in Armenia and the occupied territories, as well as the creation of a mono‑ethnic State in Armenia.  High‑ranking Armenian officials regularly made statements promoting ethnically and religiously motivated hatred and intolerance.  People in Non‑Self‑Governing Territories, and those living under foreign military occupation, deserved the right to self‑determination.  Armenia’s aggression against Azerbaijan was illegal, as unilateral secession from independent States was prohibited by international law.  “The fact that illegal situations continue because of political circumstances does not mean that they are therefore rendered legal,” he added.

Ms. ALHAMMADI (United Arab Emirates) said the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was a tool to combat intolerance, discrimination and hatred.  The United Arab Emirates had long fought discrimination with fundamental freedoms protected by the Constitution.  The Government would continue to cooperate with relevant bodies to strengthen human rights.  Encouraging tolerance and compassion was a priority, evidenced by a State institute that carried out such programmes at the national and global levels.  She closed by calling on the United Nations to address the dangerous consequences of discrimination.

Right of Reply

The representative of Armenia, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said statements made by her counterpart from Azerbaijan had been modelled after Nazi propaganda strategies.  Armenians had experienced ethnic cleansing at the hands of Azerbaijan and its collaborators, she stressed, adding that Azerbaijan was denying the people of Nagorno‑Karabakh their right to self‑determination.

The representative of the Russian Federation, to remarks by his counterpart from Georgia, called on his colleague to recognize the new political reality, and the new sovereign States which had their own Governments and legal systems.  Responding to the statement by Ukraine’s delegate, he recalled that the people of Crimea had exercised their right to self‑determination, a right enshrined in the Charter and both Covenants.  Residents of Crimea enjoyed all human rights and freedoms, and if anyone was of the view their rights had been violated, they could address the courts.

The representative of Azerbaijan said comments by Armenia’s delegate were full of distortions which his country rejected.  The ruling Republican Party had acknowledged a nationalist ideology, he said, adding that the younger generation was being groomed in that spirit.  Armenia should abandon racist ideology and learn to live in peace with its neighbours.  Armenia had unleashed war against Azerbaijan, carried out ethnic cleansing on a massive scale and destroyed cultural heritage of Azerbaijani people.  Nagorno‑Karabakh was part of Azerbaijan and it was essential to recall Armenia’s involvement in a conflict that had claimed thousands of Azerbaijani civilian lives.  Armenia’s leadership was known for hate speech and incitement to violence.

The representative of Georgia, in response to remarks by her counterpart from the Russian Federation, said that country continued to violate Georgia’s sovereign territory and had committed military aggression against Georgia.  All those violations had been noted by the Independent International Fact‑Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia, she said, recalling that several waves of ethnic cleansing and other crimes had been proved by numerous international documents.

The representative of Ukraine, responding to comments by her Russian counterpart, said the international community had identified Moscow as an occupying power.  The Russian Federation continued to violate United Nations resolutions, she said, recalling that a “Crimean nation” did not exist.  Self‑determination could not be exercised in violation of international law, she noted, urging the Russian Federation to end its tactics that caused human suffering in the region.

The representative of Algeria, responding to statements by Morocco’s delegate, said the United Nations recognized 17 Non‑Self‑Governing Territories, and not unilateral rumours launched by Morocco.  She called on Morocco to address its internal problems, and on the international community to look into the shameful human rights situation in that country.  She expressed concern over the situation in the Western Sahara, noting the people of that area had been unable to exercise their right to self‑determination.  Algeria was abiding by all United Nations decisions on the matter, she said.

The representative of Morocco called unfounded statements the norm in Algerian diplomacy.  No territory was being examined in the Third Committee.  The issue of self‑determination was being discussed in the context of the Moroccan Sahara.  He expressed regret that the United Nations had ignored the rights of the Kabyle people in that region, citing Amnesty International reports indicating that Algerian authorities had arbitrarily expelled people from the country and arrested migrants based on racial profiling.  The issue of the Moroccan Sahara was one of territorial integrity, he said, adding that Algeria was financing separatist movements.

The representative of Armenia expressed disappointment that Azerbaijan continued to mislead.  While rejecting the ungrounded accusations, she said equal rights and self‑determination should be among the principles of a resolution on Nagorno‑Karabakh.  Regarding Security Council resolutions, she said Azerbaijan, in line with its usual practices, only referred to some provisions of those resolutions.

The representative of the Russian Federation said in response to Ukraine’s delegate that the right to self‑determination could be exercised by autonomous people.  Until 2014, there had been the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, which had been part of Ukraine.  The people of Crimea had already enjoyed self‑determination within Ukraine, but the policy to deny them any rights and opportunities had affected their decision to decide to join the Russian Federation.

The representative of Azerbaijan said in response to Armenia’s delegate that the glorification of Garegin Nzhdeh showed disrespect to Soviet soldiers who had perished during the war.  Regarding accusations around April hostilities, Armenia could not deny that hostilities had been exclusively conducted in territories of Azerbaijan.  Armenia had derailed the peace process and continued a military build‑up.  Military occupation never produced a solution.  Instead, Armenia should engage in the settlement process, and implement the resolutions of the Security Council and other international organizations.

The representative of Algeria, referring to comments by her counterpart from Morocco, said “the camel could not see its head”.  Calling on the international community to consider the appeals of the people of the Western Sahara, she urged Morocco address its internal problems before pointing to any reports about Algeria.

The representative of Morocco said Algeria’s delegate continued to make erroneous comments, seeking only to foment hostility and challenge Morocco’s territorial integrity.  His Government had agreed to find a political solution to the dispute.

Introductory Statement and Dialogue with High Commissioner for Refugees

FILIPPO GRANDI, High Commissioner for Refugees, said the magnitude and complexity of forced displacement had captured the world’s attention, adding that 68 million people and counting were refugees.  Giving figures on the situation in Myanmar, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, he noted that the latter two accounted for one quarter of the world’s forcibly displaced people.  The situation in Yemen was also worrisome, and in Central America, tens of thousands of men, women and children were on the move; along the central Mediterranean route, refugees continued to face grave exploitation and abuse, alongside thousands of migrants.  Principled leadership had given way to irresponsible demagoguery, he said, adding that policies of deterrence and exclusion had taken shape in some countries and regions.  Yet, there had also been a parallel groundswell of solidarity with refugees, rooted in civil society.

Measures to shore up the efforts of refugee‑hosting countries and genuinely share responsibility were both essential, and they represented the fundamental challenge at the heart of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, he said.  The Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework annexed to the Declaration provided a new model that placed the rights, interests and potential of refugees at the heart of a comprehensive response.  At the Executive Committee meeting of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) last month, he said he had been struck by the recognition among participants that it was time for change, as well as their convergence around directions the international community must pursue.  Those included easing pressure on host countries and communities; enhancing refugee self‑reliance; expanding resettlement and other third‑country solutions; and creating conditions conducive to voluntary return.  The early pursuit of solutions was essential to the new model, he noted, citing refugee resettlement as an important solution.

While progress was happening on statelessness, the lack of citizenship for Rohingya communities was a key aspect of the discrimination and exclusion that had shaped their plight for decades.  The solution was a voluntary, safe and dignified return to Myanmar, but that would not be possible without tackling their statelessness.  “We must identify where our strengths can be of most value”, he said:  where they must translate into direct action and where they should instead help others to engage, with their own expertise and resources.  In his report to the Third Committee next year, he would propose the text of a global compact on refugees for consideration by the General Assembly, which would contain the comprehensive refugee response framework as well as a programme of action to support its application.  A draft of the global compact would be shared in early 2018, he said, around which there would be consultations in Geneva with Member States.  The promise of the New York Declaration must be translated into determined, collective action to find solutions for millions of people uprooted around the world.

In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of Ethiopia said her country had taken various measures to accommodate refugees, introducing a comprehensive response framework, providing access to education and issuing work permits.  However, there was a lack of international support and solidarity with such host countries and she asked how funding could be sustained to help them meet the needs of refugees.

The representative of Norway asked about closing the gap between humanitarian needs and resources, and how the Office would ensure that the needs of internally displaced people were met.

The representative of Iran wondered about the impact of hosting large numbers of refugees, asking the High Commissioner for the reasons behind the decline in countries offering resettlement programs.

The representative of Qatar asked the High Commissioner for solutions to the high influx of refugees.

The representative of Turkey asked the High Commissioner to assess resettlement trends and explain how current figures might evolve as the world moved towards the adoption of the Global Compact on Refugees.

The representative of Iraq requested that more aid be provided to his country so it could accommodate refugees.

The representative of Kenya expressed concern over renewed violence in South Sudan, asking about ways to ease the pressure on host countries.

The representative of Azerbaijan wondered how internally displaced people would be reflected in the Global Compact on Refugees.

The representative of Japan asked the High Commissioner about the barriers to cooperation among humanitarian and peacebuilding organizations.

The representative of Iceland said his country had taken Syrian refugees, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual individuals from Africa, stressing that local communities were involved in integrating refugees.  He asked for suggestions on what else Iceland could do to accommodate refugees.

The representatives of Brazil and Cameroon also spoke.

The representative of Myanmar said he was fully aware of the outflow of refugees from his country to Bangladesh.  Accounts from people wanting to cross the border included difficulties in daily life and safety concerns.  Myanmar was implementing repatriation programmes for those who could establish evidence of their Myanmar residency, he assured.

The representative of Morocco asked what steps had been taken to implement the Office’s 2017 strategic guidelines and if the Global Compact on Refugees was having a positive impact on the ground.

The representative of Papua New Guinea asked what role Member States could play to help implement the Office’s strategic plans, and requested information on resettlement processes.

Mr. GRANDI, responding, thanked all States hosting refugees, providing financial support or assisting in resettlement processes.  All Member States had responded positively to the Global Compact and his Office’s strategic guidelines would be strengthened by it.  Noting that the Global Compact did not have normative value and did not substitute any legal instrument, he said it instead aimed to better organize responses and find solutions to the refugee crisis.  The Compact would mobilize support and help States find solutions to forced displacement, he said, commending countries participating in initiatives towards its creation.

He said while financing remained a difficult element of response efforts, the expansion of responses to include development actors such as the World Bank, especially in education, had been a “game‑changer”.  Marrying humanitarian and development actors was a large challenge but the World Bank initiative to establish data systems that accounted for displaced persons was promising.

He said the Office was reviewing how it could be more predictable in responding to refugee crises and fulfilling inter‑agency responsibilities in crises involving internally displaced persons.  Both challenges must be represented at the same level and in the same manner.  He expressed concern over States that had traditionally been good resettlement countries curtailing the number of refugees they were taking in.  That decrease sent a wrong signal about responsibility sharing, he said, commending Iraq for providing statehood to previously stateless persons.  He concluded by calling on Myanmar to include his Office in efforts to resolve its refugee crisis.

JESÚS DÍAZ CARAZO (European Union) said the number of people who fled their homes in 2016 was 65.6 million, and noted that the bloc had received 1.2 million asylum applicants that same year.  About 84 per cent of refugees under the High Commissioner’s mandate were being hosted in low- and middle‑income countries.  Underlining the importance of strengthening protections, he emphasized the relevance of preventive measures to address the causes of displacement.  He echoed the High Commissioner’s call for action to meet the needs of asylum seekers, refugees, internally displaced persons and stateless persons, and stressed that 2018 must be a “showcase for collective action” on the matter.

Affirming the importance of global responsibility sharing and international solidarity among States, he said the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework was an expression of commitment to address the refugee situation.  The European Union had proposed a development‑oriented policy framework to address forced displacement as a means to foster self‑reliance among displaced communities, he said.  Noting the increasing financial pressures faced by international organizations, he said the record level of funding received by the Office of the High Commissioner was a testament to its competence.  Still, funding gaps remained, he said.

EPHRAIM LESHALA MMINELE (South Africa), speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), reiterated the Community’s attachment to international instruments to protect refugees and stressed that the Organization of African Unity’s Refugee Convention of 1969 was the main instrument governing their protection on the continent.  He pledged to respect the principle on non‑refoulement, urging all States to do the same.  Expressing concern over the displacement of some 65.6 million people worldwide, he said the consequences of refugee outflows disproportionately affected the developing world.  The Community was particularly concerned with the decrease in assistance funding to address the matter.

He affirmed the Community’s commitment to the New York Declaration and its Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, and applauded States already applying the Framework to respond to large‑scale refugee situations.  The Community also welcomed United Nations efforts to expand funding sources to include the private sector, he said, cautioning against initiatives that further burdened developing countries.  Efforts were being made to target the causes of forced displacement, he said.  Pointing to UNHCR’s new key orientations, he urged States to work with relevant stakeholders to ensure displaced people were granted their rights.

Mr. ALMERI (Saudi Arabia) said his country was at the forefront of countries offering support to Syrian refugees.  The 2.5 million Syrian refugees in Saudi Arabia were also granted the right to free movement and afforded the same rights as Saudi Arabian citizens to education and health care, while 141,000 Syrian students had received free education.  The Government also had provided financial support to Syrians in Lebanon and Turkey.  Meanwhile, Yemeni refugees in Saudi Arabia were also provided with job and education opportunities.  On the international level, Saudi Arabia had provided financial assistance to Rohingya refugees, he said, stressing the need to enhance international cooperation.

Mr. FURUMOTO (Japan), paying tribute to the work of the High Commissioner for Refugees, acknowledged the great responsibilities and expectations borne by the agency in the context of humanitarian crises in Syria, South Sudan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.  He recalled that in September, Japan’s 2017 contribution to the UNHCR budget had reached $150 million.  Global action for refugees represented the strong convergence between humanitarian and development aid promoted by his country.  Noting aid projects sponsored by Japan in Uganda and South Sudan, he stressed the importance of the concept of human security, which he called a pillar of the country’s diplomacy.

GILLES CERUTTI (Switzerland) said efforts to assist refugees were falling short.  There was a need to reaffirm the international principle to protect and express full support for the High Commissioner.  Expressing hope that the Global Compact would bring the international community together, he called the inclusion of development partners in assistance efforts a positive initiative.  It was also crucial to ensure assistance to internally displaced persons, and greater global attention was needed.  Welcoming the High Commissioner’s strategic direction, he encouraged inter‑agency cooperation to address issues faced by internally displaced persons.

CARLOS ARTURO MORALES LÓPEZ (Colombia) underscored the relevance of the New York Declaration, which allowed for greater humanitarian financing.  Colombia had participated in efforts to pursue the global compact on refugees.  Noting references in the High Commissioner’s report to internally displaced persons in Colombia, he said the Government had implemented mechanisms to address the issue.  Legislation and public policy were being implemented to address forced displacement, and relevant institutions were cooperating at all levels of Government to ensure return and resettlement of displaced persons.  Focus was also being given to land return efforts, with more than 4,000 families receiving orders to have land returned to them and another 30,000 such requests under consideration.

ILARIO SCHETTINO (Italy), associating himself with the European Union, said most of the 65 million displaced persons worldwide had fled conflict and severe human rights violations.  Referring to the refugee crisis as the worst humanitarian crisis in history, he said its effects had fallen disproportionately on developing countries.  The international community must recognize that assistance must be complemented by long‑term development responses.  To that end, Italy fully supported the paradigm shift in responses to forced displacement presented by the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework.  The refugee crisis was linked to conflict and human trafficking, he said, adding that the Security Council could be a pivotal partner in the search for solutions to the plight of refugees.

RICARDO DE SOUZA MONTEIRO (Brazil) pointed out that most countries receiving refugees were developing countries.  Financial support to those host countries was a key measure, but it could not be a counterpart for adopting restrictive policies regarding control of entry and permanence in their territories.  He expressed concern that recent steps taken by some States to restrict entry and permanence of refugees and asylum seekers violated international refugee law and humanitarian principles.  His country had approved a new migration law that guaranteed migrants’ rights and integrated foreigners.  He also noted that Brazil was closely following the elaboration of the global compact on refugees, bearing in mind the importance of States’ contributions, so that responsibilities under the compact were compatible with the capacity of each country.

NATALIE COHEN (Australia) said her country had contributed $6.9 million to the High Commissioner’s Office to support implementation of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework in Uganda and Ethiopia.  Australia’s refugee resettlement program would expand to include resettlement places for refugees from Uganda and Ethiopia.  The country would also make multi‑year funding commitments to protracted displacement crises and invest in resilience of both refugees and local communities.  The success of the Global Compact on Refugees would depend on the buy‑in of all States and key stakeholders, she said, adding that States were obliged to provide protection and security to those within their jurisdiction.

NEBIL SAID IDRIS (Eritrea) said he deplored the use by some regional Governments to use camps — funded and jointly administered by the High Commissioner — as centres of political agitation and armed recruitment.  The lack of scrutiny and accountability of national camp administrators had led to misuse and diversion of resources allocated to refugees.  People in those camps had been exposed to the dangers of human smuggling and trafficking.  Claims by some, including the High Commissioner, that Eritrea had persecuted citizens returning from overseas was a “false depiction”, as his country maintained a policy of voluntary repatriation and assisted its returning citizens in reintegrating to society.  The High Commissioner’s classification of Eritrean economic migrants as “bona fide” refugees was wrong, as it had led to Eritrean youths leaving for Europe and facing greater vulnerability to human trafficking.

Mr. AL HUSSAINI (Iraq) said the wave of terrorism in the country led to the displacement of some 3.6 million people.  The Government was working to mitigate their suffering by providing shelters and establishing camps, with efforts also ensuring access to bank accounts and receipt of identification cards.  Iraq faced several waves of displacement, he said, and safe corridors were being created for the movement of displaced persons.  Moreover, military personnel were working to ensure the safety of displaced persons, especially in areas were terrorist groups remained entrenched.  Iraqi security forces placed the protection of civilians at the core of their strategy in Mosul, he assured.

ROMAN KASHAEV (Russian Federation) said that during the High Commissioner’s visit to his country, the Government had pledged to do more, especially in terms of financial assistance, to assist displaced persons.  The Russian Federation hosted refugees from several countries, with more than 1 million Ukrainians fleeing internal conflict in that country.  A key element of migration policy was reducing statelessness, he said, commending the High Commissioner’s efforts on that matter. If global efforts were pooled, the situation of people under the Office’s mandate could be greatly improved.  Truly addressing the issue called for ending conflict, he said, adding that the “irresponsible interference” of Western States in the Middle East and Africa had led to the refugee crisis.  Responsible States must carry the financial burden of assisting refugees.

Ms. BROOKS (United States) underscored the need to support countries that had opened their borders to refugees, as well as efforts to protect the dignity of refugees.  This year, the United States had made a historic high contribution of $8 billion to the High Commissioner’s Office, and she called on Member States to follow through on their pledges to end conflicts through durable solutions.  The Office could sustain predictable funding by maintaining transparent and open dialogue with stakeholders, she said, welcoming efforts to invest in the Office’s workforce and increase its efficiency.

AMJAD QASSEM AGHA (Syria), citing the waves of refugees from Syria, said they were part of a strategy by the United States and European countries to leave his country empty of people.  Indeed, the open door policy of European countries had encouraged more people to leave.  Syrian refugees faced risks of human trafficking in Turkey, while the percentages of child marriages had doubled in refugee camps in Jordan.  He questioned Saudi Arabia’s delegate, who commented that that country had hosted 2.5 million Syrian refugees, as the High Commissioner’s report stated otherwise.  Moreover, it was important to distinguish between a legal resident and refugee, he said, urging Member States to implement Security Council resolutions to end the Syrian crisis and to stop any unilateral actions against his country.

GHULAM SEDDIQ RASULI (Afghanistan) said that finding solutions for refugees must be at the centre of the international community’s response to refugee movements.  That was a key component of the New York Declaration and featured strongly in the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework that was annexed to it.  The issue of refugees was of central importance to Afghanistan.  Over 2 million of its citizens were registered as refugees in neighbouring countries, having fled from imposed conflict over the past decades.  His Government was committed to ensuring the return and sustainable reintegration of Afghan refugees and was working closely with UNHCR and a variety of international actors to make that happen, he said.

PHAM THI KIM ANH (Viet Nam) noted that in 2017, half of all refugees under the mandate of UNHCR were children.  Refugees and asylum seekers often were driven to use the services of smugglers, exposing them to abuse and exploitation, human rights violations and even death.  The refugee problem was closely linked to the issues of peace and security and human rights.  They needed assistance in obtaining legal status.  Voluntary return or resettlement was an indispensable tool for burden and responsibility sharing.  The commitments under the New York Declaration should be transformed into action.  Countries had a shared responsibility in support of refugees through funding and humanitarian assistance, among other things.

SUSAN WANGECI MWANGI (Kenya) expressed concern that some countries had developed measures aimed at keeping refugees in countries of origin, pushing them back at or across borders, and some directly into conflict zones.  Such actions were inconsistent with the principle of non‑refoulement and the New York Declaration.  She expressed hope that the Global Compact for Refugees would address the disparities and include explicit language on more equitable and predictable burden and responsibility sharing.  Kenya maintained an open door policy for admission of refugees.  Since October 2016, her country had witnessed a significant increase in the number of arrivals from South Sudan.  Currently, Kenya was hosting 183,542 refugees in the Kakuma complex, of whom 109,000 were South Sudanese.  Noting difficulties with the Dadaab refugee complex, which had become a base for planning terrorist attacks on Kenya, she said prolonged settlement was resulting in the depletion of scarce natural resources and was leading to conflict.  In May 2016, her Government decided to close the Daadab refugee complex, and sought to relocate the refugees to safe areas in Somalia under the Tripartite Agreement with Somalia and UNHCR.  Since 2014, approximately 75,000 Somali refugees had been voluntarily repatriated to Somalia, and another 13,000 had been resettled to third countries.  In that context, she urged the international community to collectively support the enhancement of stability in Somalia.

MOHAMMAD HASSANI NEJAD PIRKOUHI (Iran) said foreign occupation and terrorism had caused massive displacement worldwide.  Developing countries with limited resources were too often the final destination of people fleeing crisis, he said, adding that no country could address the issue alone.  Noting Iran’s long‑standing assistance to refugees, he called for a mechanism to assist countries hosting large numbers of refugees.  Iran’s ability to provide services, while facing sanctions, could not be guaranteed, he said, as the Government was providing health, education and employment assistance to refugees, and it was impossible to do so indefinitely.  He called for the voluntary repatriation and resettlement of refugees, adding that the responsibility to protect was not confined to certain regions.

ZOUBIR BENARBIA (Algeria) expressed concern over the increasing number of refugees and internally displaced persons in Africa, and underscored that developing countries continued to host the most significant amount of displaced persons.  He called on UNHCR to provide more information on the impact of refugees on the development plans of those host countries.  The most appropriate solution to the crisis was the safe, voluntary repatriation of refugees.  Global efforts to address the problem had to be centred on providing assistance, protection and sustainable solutions.  Noting Algeria’s long‑standing commitment to refugees, he said his Government was waiting for the voluntary repatriation of refugees in Western Sahara.

IRINA VELICHKO (Belarus) commended the efforts made to establish the New York Declaration.  Her country had engaged in national consultations to develop strategies to deal with the global refugee crisis.  Member States needed to agree collectively on the action they would take to meet the needs of refugees, she stressed, noting that the refugee crisis was the result of States which had not followed the norms of international law.  She added that many of the tensions and conflicts felt today were caused by the inability of major countries to build a new world order after the end of the cold war.

YIĞIT CANAY (Turkey) said that, in line with commitments made in Istanbul during the World Humanitarian Summit, his country had pursued an efficient model of cooperation between humanitarian and development actors, and its assistance to those displaced from various parts of sub‑Saharan Africa was an example of that effort.  Hosting close to 3.3 million people displaced due to conflict in the region, including 3 million people from Syria, Turkey was now the largest refugee‑hosting country.  Syrians were provided with free access to education, health services and the labour market, he said, highlighting that the ratio of displaced children attending school had doubled to 60 per cent in 2017, compared to the previous year.  Reducing the number of lives lost at sea and the fight against human smuggling were other areas of importance for Turkey.

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International Human Rights Standards Must Translate to Programmes on Ground, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Tells Third Committee

International human rights standards “can and must” be translated into programmes on the ground, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, pointing to gender-related killings in Central America, massive migration from Myanmar to Bangladesh and ongoing tragedy in Syria.

“The world’s people are crying out for more justice, greater accountability, more respect for civil, cultural, economic, social, and political rights as well as the right to development,” said Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, presenting his annual report.

In that context of rising turmoil, he said the Office had assisted national authorities, democratic institutions and civil society in upholding human dignity and rights.  To tackle femicide in Central America, it recently set up a virtual training in Argentina, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Panama of a Model Protocol developed to investigate gender-related deaths of women.

To ensure migrants’ rights, he said the Office had organized monitoring missions to European border and transit locations such as Bulgaria, France, Greece, Italy and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to assess protection needs.  It had also published a report of “shocking” abuses suffered by migrants in Libya.

In Bangladesh, two rapid expert teams had been sent to interview refugees from Myanmar’s Rohingya community and report on violations.  While they had been refused access by Myanmar authorities, his Office would continue to seek accountability for any such abuses, and coordinate with Bangladesh to ensure the integration of rights into humanitarian operations.

Faced with Syria’s refusal to enable access, he said the Office had established a Syrian Team — essentially virtual country offices in Beirut, Gaziantep, Amman and Geneva — that included monitoring and human rights advisors.  In a similar lack of access, it had set up a team to conduct remote monitoring of the human rights situation in Venezuela, given recent countrywide demonstrations.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegates affirmed their commitment to upholding human rights obligations, and asked a range of questions — from how the High Commissioner had increased representation of developing countries in his Office, to how States could work with the United Nations to ensure sufficient space for civil society. Delegates from Switzerland and the United Kingdom asked how Member States could work with the Office to prevent human rights abuses from taking place, while representatives of Latvia and the United States pointed out that countries with grave human rights abuses should not be on the Human Rights Council.  They asked what measures could be taken to improve the Council’s credibility.

Venezuela’s delegate said indivisible and progressive respect for all human rights was enshrined in its Constitution, which was among the reasons it had been elected to the Human Rights Council.  He pressed the Office to comply with its General Assembly mandate to conduct its work on the basis of non‑politicization, transparency and non‑application of double standards, stressing that its report had omitted facts about crimes by armed groups.

Singapore’s representative asked why the Office had not presented a report to the General Assembly this year and requested clarity about its reporting responsibilities, a point echoed by Egypt’s representative.  

There was growing understanding among States about the Office’s mandate, which must proceed without groundless accusations spread through false information, added the representative of the Russian Federation.  Despite current trends, the Office was not supposed to be a human rights arbiter.

The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 17 October, to continue its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights.

Background

Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights.  The Committee had before it the following documents: A/72/127, A/72/128, A/72/131, A/72/132, A/72/133, A/72/135, A/72/137, A/72/139, A/72/140, A/72/153, A/72/155, A/72/162, A/72/163, A/72/164, A/72/165, A/72/170, A/72/171, A/72/172, A/72/173, A/72/187, A/72/188, A/72/201, A/72/202, A/72/219, A/72/230, A/72/256, A/72/260, A/72/277, A/72/280, A/72/284, A/72/289, A/72/290, A/72/316, A/72/335, A/72/350, A/72/351, A/72/365, A/72/370, A/72/381, A/72/495, A/72/496, A/72/502, A/72/518, A/72/523, A/72/279, A/72/281, A/72/322, A/72/382, A/72/394, A/72/493, A/72/498, A/C.3/72/2-S/2017/798, A/C.3/72/3–S/2017/799, A/C.3/72/4–S/2017/800, A/C.3/72/5-S-2017/816, A/C.3/72/6-S-2017/817, A/C.3/72/7–S/2017/818, A/C.3/72/8-S-2017/819, A/C.3/72/10–S/2017/852 and A/C.3/72/11.

Interactive Dialogue

ZEID RA’AD ZEID AL HUSSEIN, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said his Office had made a real difference in several countries, assisting national authorities, democratic institutions and civil society in upholding human dignity and rights.  Presenting his annual report, covering August 2016 to July 2017, he highlighted the Office’s work in Cambodia, its oldest field presence, which illustrated how well-targeted technical cooperation had built trust with partners.  It was working to expand a criminal case database to ensure nationwide coverage by 2019, as well as training judges and lawyers in human rights law and fostering improved conditions of detention.

In El Salvador, he said the Office had drawn up a specific protocol for investigating femicide, with the help of judges, prosecutors, police and victims, as well as supported the development of a model protocol for investigating gender-related deaths of women, which had been widely adopted by justice officials across the region.  On the protection of migrants, the Office had played a lead role in supporting the historic negotiation of a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration, and developed a compendium of good practices.  It had organized monitoring missions to European border and transit locations such as Bulgaria, France, Greece, Italy and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to assess migrants’ protection needs.

Just last week, the Office had completed a mission to assess protection needs of migrants in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, he said, while in Tunisia, a national consultation had been conducted to gauge respect for migrants’ health, education and labour rights.  With the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), it had published a report of “shocking” abuses and violations suffered by migrants in that country, and in the Pacific, met with migrants stranded in both Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

On the massive movements of people from Myanmar’s Rohingya community to Bangladesh, he said two rapid expert teams had been sent to interview refugees in Bangladesh and report on violations.  While the experts had been refused access by Myanmar authorities, their reports continued to provide crucial information to Member States and the Security Council.  Further, the work of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, established by the Human Rights Council, was underway.  His Office would continue to seek prevention and accountability for rights violations, and would coordinate with Bangladesh to ensure integration of rights in ongoing humanitarian operations. 

Also this year, the Office had deployed a team to Angola to interview refugees fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo, he said, and in the absence of access, had established a team to conduct remote monitoring on the human rights situation in Venezuela in the context of nationwide demonstrations.  He went on to highlight important work on the right to food and access to land in Malawi, and efforts to combat violent extremism in Mali.  In Syria, the Office continued to support the Human Rights Council’s International Independent Commission of Inquiry.  Faced with Syria’s refusal to enable access, the Office had established virtual country offices — in Beirut, Gaziantep, Amman and Geneva, including monitoring teams and human rights advisors.

Finally, he said the Office had also supported the creation of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law committed in Syria — a new and unique body mandated by the Assembly to collect and analyse evidence of alleged crimes in Syria.  It was committed to do its utmost to ensure recommendations of all human rights were carried out.  The Secretary-General’s reform efforts presented an opportunity to ensure that human rights were no longer viewed as ancillary but as central to sustainable development, peace and security.

“The world’s people are crying out for more justice, greater accountability, more respect for civil, cultural, economic, social, and political rights as well as the right to development,” he said, pledging to assist Governments, regional and national institutions, civil society organizations and human rights defenders in upholding the rights of all people.

The representative of Brazil supported the work carried out by the High Commissioner’s Office on protecting people from being discriminated against based on their sexual or gender identity. 

The representative of China asked what specific measures would be taken to increase the representation of developing countries in the staffing of the High Commissioner’s Office, and about how the Office would invest more human and financial resources in the units responsible for economic, social and cultural rights, and the right to development.

The representative of Morocco asked the High Commissioner to expand on his Office’s contribution to protecting migrants through the global compact on migration.

The representative of Australia asked how States could best work together to ensure space for civil society at the United Nations.

The representative of Argentina asked whether the High Commissioner believed the existing international legal framework was sufficient to protect the rights of older persons.

The representative of Latvia said countries which committed grave human rights abuses should not be on the Council, and asked the High Commissioner what measures could be taken to improve the credibility of the Council.

The representative of the United States asked what should be done to ensure the worst human rights violators were not able to serve as members of the Human Rights Council, also asking what could be done to prevent reprisals against members of civil society.

The representative of Switzerland asked what the best way would be for the Council to improve its preventive work, and what the High Commissioner expected from Member States in order to achieve that goal.

The representative of Venezuela said indivisible and progressive respect for all human rights was a commitment enshrined in its Constitution, which was among the reasons why Venezuela had been elected to the Human Rights Council.  He pressed the Office to comply with its General Assembly mandate to conduct its work on the basis of non‑politicization, transparency and non-application of double standards, stressing that the report had omitted facts about crimes by armed groups. Venezuela would work with the Office as long as it took a balanced approach.

The representative of the United Kingdom asked the High Commissioner about how Member States could assist his Office in its preventive and early warning work. 

The representative of Cameroon said political, social and cultural rights were interlinked and should be dealt with on the same footing, adding that further efforts must be made towards members of civil society working to protect those rights.

Mr. AL HUSSEIN replied that his Office had come under intense pressure from all sides, stressing that there were no countries with perfect human rights records.  To a question on underrepresentation of certain geographic areas and developing countries on the staff of OHCHR, he said he was a strong believer in the broadest possible geographic range of staff, adding that his Office was committed to improving women’s representation on staff and welcoming the Secretary-General’s commitment to gender parity.  To a query on strengthening work on economic, social and cultural rights, he said his Office would work to integrate those rights into the United Nations system and turn them into realities on the ground.  On the integration of his Office’s work into broader work on migration, he said he had led follow-up to developing a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration. 

A lack of cooperation with Special Procedures Mandate-holders was deeply concerning, he said, adding that a number of States with standing invitations to those mandate-holders did not honour that commitment in practice.  To a question on the rights of older persons, he described significant normative gaps, and absent or weak national standards regarding age discrimination.  Regarding changes that could be envisaged in the composition of the Human Rights Council to ensure its greater credibility, he said the General Assembly resolution guiding membership should be observed, adding that there was no selectivity.  To questions on reprisals, he said his staff relied on civil society for insight and information, and when those individuals were harmed, it was considered an attack on the United Nations.  A report on that topic had been presented.  On conflict prevention and early warning, he said one of the key parts of his Office’s work was access, which it needed to verify and confirm information.  He pleaded for Member States to grant access when OHCHR felt it was needed.

The representative of Iran said that OHCHR’s work should not be steered by political motives, cautioning against entertaining any such initiatives.  Referencing discrimination, he requested additional information regarding OHCHR duties in countries without United Nations presence.

The representative of the European Union asked how States and relevant agencies could ensure civil, political and social rights were advanced in tandem.

The representative of the Russian Federation said several non‑State actors continued to pose threats to human rights and that some States were using human rights issues to further their own political goals.  There was growing understanding among States about the Office’s mandate, which must proceed without groundless accusations spread through false information.  Despite current trends, the Office was not supposed to be a human rights arbiter.

A representative of the Observer State of Palestine asked how the database to monitor Israel’s illegal settlement campaign would address non‑profit organizations engaging in business in the settlements, and further, when the report on that matter would be presented.

The representative of Cuba asked about activities being undertaken to avoid politicization of human rights and development issues.  He requested information regarding operational changes at OHCHR and what effects those changes would have on the Office’s work.

The representative of Azerbaijan expressed concern over the increasing number of displaced persons around the world and asked what work the Office would do to address the matter.

The representative of Ethiopia encouraged the High Commissioner to promote migrants’ rights, asking whether earmarked funding had affected the Office’s work and about any gaps identified regarding the rights of migrants.

The representative of Egypt, speaking on behalf of the African Group, asked for clarification regarding the Office’s reporting mechanisms. 

The representative of Singapore also asked for clarity on the Office’s reporting responsibilities and why no report had been presented to the General Assembly this year.

The representative of Indonesia asked the High Commissioner what was expected of relevant parties in the fulfilment of social and cultural rights.

The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea asked the High Commissioner to explain what measures would be taken to address the abduction of a group of girls by the Republic of Korea.

Mr. AL HUSSEIN, responding to Iran’s query, said engagement with countries without a United Nations presence was done through the Office’s regional representatives and through its staff in Geneva.  Remote monitoring and capacity-building workshops were also an option, he noted.

Turning to the European Union’s question, he said using international human rights law to pursue peace could address the causes of conflict and benefit post‑conflict rebuilding efforts.  He recognized the link among all rights, and said recognizing them as universal was the first point of departure to ensure all rights were promoted in tandem.  Strengthening United Nations capacity to respond to emerging crises was also pivotal.

He said he was well aware of the pressure being placed on Member States by non‑State actors, and that his Office had a responsibility to “hold a mirror” to States’ conduct.  Without the work of his Office the world would be much less stable, he assured.

In response to Cuba’s question, he said his Office would continue to pursue ways to promote the right to development.  The Secretary-General’s human rights initiatives brought all United Nations pillars together and called for greater focus on human rights, including those of migrants.  On funding, he expressed appreciation for States’ voluntary contributions, whether earmarked or not.  Currently, earmarked funds were provided for areas in which his Office did not have budget allocations.

Responding to queries by delegates from Egypt and Singapore, he said that on the basis of relevant resolutions, his Office must submit reports to the Human Rights Council and General Assembly.  Producing both reports required countless staff hours and the coordination of all offices around the world.  This year, a note had been issued, instead of a report to the General Assembly, referring to the report presented to the Human Rights Council to streamline the process.  He said that approach had saved resources without sacrificing information.  If States expressed dissatisfaction with that approach, the practice could be modified next year.

Turning to the concern expressed by the delegate of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea over the abduction of the girls, he assured he was taking the matter seriously and engagement avenues were being explored.

He closed by saying that a report on the database of Israeli settlements would be produced by the end of the year.

Also speaking were the representatives of Qatar, Belarus, Ukraine, Japan, Norway, Libya, Liberia, Eritrea, Syria and Nepal.

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Speakers Consider Value of Interdependence, Multilateralism, Joint Action in Tackling Global Challenges, on Fourth Day of Annual General Debate

The interdependence of States and the benefits of joint action must be recognized and reaffirmed, the General Assembly heard today, as speakers debated the value of multilateralism in addressing pressing global challenges, ranging from inequality to climate change.

Never in history had moving away from diplomacy led to progress in the promotion of universal values, said Prime Minister Charles Michel of Belgium, declaring that doing so would be an act of “cowardly abandon”.  On the fourth day of the Assembly’s annual general debate, he described multilateralism as a robust and reliable driving force for creating a better world, emphasizing the necessity of coordination and consensus.  Globalization had generated doubts and fears, yet multilateralism was not to blame, he said, emphasizing that although multilateralism was complicated and could create difficulties, international and regional organizations and action must be strengthened.

Reinforcing that sentiment, Margot Wallström, Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs stressed:  “This is the moment for multilateralism, not unilateralism”, warning that unless countries grasped that chance, they would “face the consequences”.  Today, “going it alone” was not an option, she said, adding that Member States had the responsibility to act coherently and flexibly.

Prime Minister Edi Rama of Albania said protectionist approaches were challenging the existing international global order without proposing anything credible to replace it.  However, no country, however big, rich or powerful, could face or solve problems alone, he cautioned.  In that context, one of the pillars of Albania’s foreign policy was the development of regional cooperation and the transformation of the Western Balkans into an area of free movement for people, goods, capital and ideas, he said.

In a similar vein, Prime Minister Allen Michael Chastanet of Saint Lucia said multilateral discussions were needed to address inequality and other issues.  If States indulged their differences, inequity would persist as the driving force in the international system and people would struggle to survive, he cautioned, emphasizing that the global reality increasingly called for integrating economies, the environment and people.

Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson, Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, said his country had risen to become one of the wealthiest countries in Europe, describing its “rags to riches” path as a textbook example of the power of free trade.  He urged the international community to open its markets and allow poor countries to trade freely with all consumers.  Free trade also meant forming international relationships and promoting interaction among all peoples, regardless of colour or religion.  Since the markets of the world’s richest countries remained closed to the poorest, it was incumbent upon the international community to support developing nations, he emphasized.

Samura M. W. Kamara, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sierra Leone, speaking on behalf of President Ernest Bai Koroma, stressed the need to strengthen the role of mediation in the settlement of disputes, highlighting the gains realized through preventive diplomacy.  Mediation remained a powerful tool for preventing and settling armed conflicts and must be fully utilized.  Mediation efforts had proven very fruitful for Sierra Leone in terms of timely cessation of hostilities, credible ceasefire agreements and the deployment of peacekeeping missions, he said.

Throughout the day, speakers also highlighted the devastating havoc that climate change was wreaking on thei

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Close $7 Billion Funding Gap in AIDS Response, Speakers Stress, Urging Assistance for At-Risk Females, as General Assembly Charts Progress towards Ending Pandemic

Despite global gains in the fight against the HIV and AIDS epidemic, some 1,800 young people a day were being newly infected with the virus and prevention rates among adults around the world had stalled, the General Assembly’s President said today.

Peter Thomson, in his remarks at the start of a debate that reviewed international progress towards achieving a world free of the virus by 2030, commended notable advancements, as well.  He said that antiretroviral medicines had become significantly more available to those who needed them and that there had been a decline in the number of babies born with HIV.

However, he continued, ending the epidemic by 2030, a goal the international community pledged to last year with the signing of the Political Declaration on Ending AIDS, required a comprehensive approach.  It would require ensuring access to education, information and services to people living with HIV and to those groups most at risk.

It was also important to combat the stigma attached to those living with HIV and groups at risk including men who have sex with men and transgender persons, and people who inject drugs, he said.  Bringing together the power and cooperation of all stakeholders would help build synergies and progress in the fight against the epidemic.  To that end, he urged Member States to fund the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and other programmes that aimed to meet those objectives.  It was particularly crucial to close the $7 billion funding gap for the global AIDS response.

“The AIDS pandemic is far from over,” Amina Mohammed, Deputy-Secretary-General of the United Nations, warned.  She stressed that young women and adolescent girls, most notably in sub-Saharan Africa, were particularly vulnerable.  The region had a high rate of infection, lagged in testing and remained behind in HIV treatment.  Addressing such concerning gaps required the integration of HIV into sexual reproductive programmes.  She highlighted the critical role of communities in coming up with solutions and encouraged Governments to listen closely to what they had to say.  “If we do that, we will truly be able to end AIDS,” Ms. Mohammed added.

She also urged Member States to heed the call to reach the targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and highlighted the need to establish within the United Nations system, and particularly UNAIDS, a culture of accountability that focused on people rather than bureaucracy.  Ending AIDS fit squarely within the 2030 Agenda, whose goals and targets reinforced efforts to eradicate the virus.

Echoing a similar sentiment in the debate that followed, Gambia’s representative, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that poverty and unemployment aggravated HIV and AIDS.  The AIDS epidemic was indeed disproportionately affecting sub-Saharan Africa, with Eastern and Southern Africa home to half of the world’s people living with HIV.

Throughout the morning debate, speakers called for a redoubling of global efforts to ensure access to affordable drugs, address the particular vulnerabilities of women and girls, and to boost the international cooperation to the epidemic through UNAIDS and other United Nations programmes.

Norway’s speaker said that, with the female prison population rising globally, HIV prevalence rate among female inmates was much higher than those outside of jail.  Many children were born in prisons, and yet there were no systems in place to prevent HIV transmission, or to even monitor transmission in such cases.

Some speakers noted good news, with the representative of India reporting that new infections in his country had declined by 66 per cent from 2000 to 2015.  He credited the achievement to collaboration among Government, communities and people living with HIV, and civil society.  Reaching “the last mile” would require laws that addressed discrimination and fight stigma in education and the workplace.

Several other speakers also emphasized the need to fight discrimination and stigma, with the delegate from Kenya, where 1.5 million people lived with HIV, said that the Government had launched a “Kick Out HIV Stigma” campaign that sought to engage youth through county football leagues.  Colombia’s delegate called stigma a determining factor, which often compounded vulnerabilities, and expressed concern that “someone living with the virus could be rejected by their family or from their job”.

Speakers from developing countries urged developed countries to keep up with their financing of the HIV and AIDS global response.  The representative of France, stressing the need for innovative and ambitious funding solutions, said a tax on airline tickets and financial transactions had enabled her country to cover nearly 60 per cent of the annual budget of the international drug purchase facility UNITAID.  She went on to say preparations should be made for middle-income countries that would no longer be a part of international financing mechanisms, given that more than half of those living with HIV were in those countries.

Some Member States, although backing global efforts to end AIDS, also said countries should be able to deal with the epidemic as seen fit for their needs.  The representative of the Russian Federation said he did not agree with some provisions of the Secretary-General’s report on reinvigorating the AIDS response, which the Assembly had before it.  Emphasizing the need for a balanced response that reflected cultural and religious specificities, he said it was perplexing to consider that the criminalization of drugs and drug use was a barrier to AIDS-related services.  Punishment for drug-related crimes was the prerogative of States.

Also today, the General Assembly elected Chairpersons to its six committees as follows:  Mouayed Saleh (Iraq) to its First Committee (Disarmament and International Security); Sven Jürgenson (Estonia) to its Second Committee (Economic and Financial); Einar Gunnarsson (Iceland) to its Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural); Rafael Darío Ramírez Carreño (Venezuela) to its Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization); Tommo Monthe (Cameroon) to its Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary); and Burhan Gafoor (Singapore) to its Sixth Committee (Legal).

The Assembly also appointed Steve Townley (United Kingdom) as a member of the Committee on Contributions for a term beginning on 1 June and ending on 31 December — as recommended by the Fifth Committee.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Philippines (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Bulgaria, Switzerland, Botswana, Lichtenstein, Namibia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Indonesia, Luxembourg, United States, Mexico, El Salvador and Japan, as well as the European Union.

Opening Remarks

PETER THOMSON (Fiji), President of the General Assembly, said that, while major advancements had been made, including scaled-up access to antiretroviral treatments, and a decline in the number of children born with HIV, the scale of shortcomings remained deeply concerning.  HIV prevention rates among adults around the world had largely stalled, with the number of new infections actually increasing in some regions.  Some 1,800 young people a day were being newly infected with the virus, with young women at particular risk.  Ending the epidemic of AIDS by 2030 required a comprehensive and inclusive approach, he added, stressing the need to provide education, information and services to people living with HIV and to those at risk.

It was particularly crucial to combat stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and populations at higher risk of infection including sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender persons and people who inject drugs, he continued.  Harnessing the power of all stakeholders would help meet the global challenges through strengthening already established strategic partnerships, as well as creating new ones. It was important to leverage the integrated nature of the Sustainable Development Goals by building on the synergies between the global AIDS response and efforts to achieve universal health coverage.  Adequate funding remained critical to meet the objectives, he added, emphasizing the need to close the $7 billion funding gap for the global AIDS response.

AMINA MOHAMMED, Deputy-Secretary-General of the United Nations, said achieving the aim on AIDS was linked with the greater 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. “The AIDS pandemic is far from over,” she warned Member States, expressing concern at the lack of decline in the number of new annual infections. People with HIV and those groups particularly at risk must have access to services at every stage of life, she said, noting that the world had the scientific knowledge to help those infected.  Young women and adolescent girls, most notably in sub-Saharan Africa, were particularly vulnerable.  “Now we need to do a better job to reach young and adolescent girls,” she stressed.

It was critical to integrate HIV and sexual reproduction programmes, she continued, emphasizing the need for those infected to access services and treatment.  Ending AIDS fit squarely within the 2030 Agenda, whose goals and targets reinforced efforts to eradicate the virus.  She urged Member States to heed the call to reach the targets and highlighted the need to establish within the United Nations system, and particularly at the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), a culture of accountability that focused on people rather than bureaucracy.  Reiterating the link between achieving the 2030 Agenda and eradicating the AIDS epidemic, she highlighted the role of communities in coming up with solutions.  “I encourage you to listen closely to what communities have to say; if we do that we will truly be able to end AIDS,” she said.

Statements

MAMADOU TANGARA (Gambia), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said Africa’s commitment to fight HIV and AIDS — which threatened sustainable development — was unwavering, as demonstrated by the African Union Road Map on Shared Responsibility and Global Solidarity for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Africa.  Poverty and unemployment aggravated HIV and AIDS, he said, stressing also the need for progress in gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.  The AIDS epidemic disproportionately affected sub-Saharan Africa, he said, with eastern and southern Africa being home to half the world’s people living with HIV.

Underscoring the importance of sexual health education related to HIV, he said AIDS-related stigma was undermining an effective AIDS response.  People with HIV faced challenges around the world, including the violation of their human rights.  In some cases, those with disabilities were at higher risk of infection, as were those displaced by humanitarian emergencies.  The African Group strongly appealed for people with HIV to be treated equally and fairly, he said, expressing thanks to those States that had lifted travel restrictions on people living with HIV and AIDS.  He went on to call on donor countries to invest more in HIV and AIDS to break the $7 billion gap, and emphasized the need for greater technological transfers and capacity-building.

TEODORO LOPEZ LOCSIN, JR. (Philippines), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said that, in 2015, an estimated 1.7 million people in the region had been affected by HIV.  Affected populations differed in each member State and could include sex workers and their clients, people who injected drugs, men who had sex with men and the transgender population.  In September 2016, ASEAN had adopted the Declaration of Commitment on HIV and AIDS, reaffirming its support for the 2016 Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS:  On the Fast-Track to Accelerating the Fight against HIV and to Ending the AIDS Epidemic by 2030.

The ASEAN Declaration would focus on several areas and ensure no one was left behind in HIV and AIDS response efforts, he said.  Activities included offering programmes for key affected populations, scaling up and strengthening prevention, testing, treatment, care and support services, and pledging to ensure the achievement of the 90-90-90 treatment target by 2020.  ASEAN would also sustain the response by further strengthening the capacities of national and local Governments and continue to invest in broad community participation.

ANTONIO PARENTI, European Union, reaffirming its commitment to the 2016 Political Declaration, said the time had come to scale up prevention and testing programmes, as well as to address social inequalities and determinants that affected prevention, access to screening and care.  “We need to combine health instruments with social instruments and work together across health and social policies,” he said, adding that, in doing so, it was important to help community organizations come up with more effective approaches to reduce stigma and discrimination.

He said the European Union and its member States were committed to the promotion, protection and fulfilment of the right of every individual to have full control over — and to decide freely and responsibly — on matters related to their sexuality and sexual and reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion and violence.  He also emphasized the need for universal and affordable comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information, education — including sexuality education — and health-care services.  The European Union’s investment in AIDS included €60 million for developing a vaccine.  He went on to say that it was crucial to ensure that the global AIDS response was adequately funding, including the UNAIDS-Global Fund partnership.  With UNAIDS having a critical role to play, its unique model should be refined and reinforced so that it could keep guiding the global agenda, support countries as they adopted fast-track approaches, and remain a pathfinder for United Nations reform.

GEORGI PANAYOTOV (Bulgaria), associating himself with the European Union, expressed concern that delivery gaps of HIV prevention, testing and treatment services were largest among people most in need, especially those facing hate crimes due to their sexual orientation and gender identity.  For young people, he advocated universal access to sexuality education and non-judgmental services, stressing that ending AIDS required progress across the entire human rights spectrum, with gender equality and an end to gender-based violence at the centre of the response.  For its part, Bulgaria had created a comprehensive HIV prevention programme involving the Government, medical institutions and civil society, and had established 35 preventive health centres.  The new national strategy on HIV and sexually transmitted infections for 2017-2020, adopted in March, complied with international standards and political commitments.

MARÍA EMMA MEJÍA VÉLEZ (Colombia) said AIDS was both a public health and development problem.  She expressed concern that overall progress on the epidemic had been weak.  Colombia had a low prevalence rate throughout the country and above 5 per cent in most affected areas.  The Government continued to remain committed to the 2030 Agenda and had followed recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO).  Still, challenges persisted, she continued, urging the United Nations to double its efforts to end the epidemic by paying particular attention to ensuring access to affordable medicines, comprehensive sex education and improved diagnosis.  She said stigma was a determining factor, which often compounded vulnerabilities, and expressed concern that “someone living with the virus could be rejected by their family or from their job”.  Sexual and reproductive rights were human rights, which must be promoted and protected without discrimination.  Resources for public health, however, remained scarce, she added, calling for global strategies to help scale-up the response.

MAYANK JOSHI (India) said that access to effective and affordable medicines remained critical to combating the epidemic.  More than 80 per cent of the quality antiretroviral drugs used globally were supplied by the Indian pharmaceutical industry.  For its part, new infections in India had declined by 66 per cent from 2000 to 2015, and AIDS-related deaths had fallen by 54 per cent between 2007 and 2015.  He credited that success to collaboration between Government, communities and people living with and affected by HIV, civil society and other stakeholders.  India was now building on lessons learned to redefine the national approach to reach “the last mile”.  It was working to enact an HIV and AIDS law focused on protecting the human rights of people living with or affected by HIV by addressing discrimination in education and the workplace.  Moreover, some 21,000 HIV counselling and testing centres continued to help ensure that 90 per cent of people infected by HIV were on treatment.

JÜRG LAUBER (Switzerland), also speaking on behalf of Zambia, said that UNAIDS had been working systematically across the United Nations system with co-sponsoring organizations for more than 20 years.  It was important to put the recommendations set out in the report of the Global Review Panel on the Future of the UNAIDS Joint Programme Model in the context of wider United Nations reform.  The Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS clearly laid out the strategic direction for the next few years, he continued.

If the AIDS epidemic was to be eliminated as a public health threat by 2030, fast-tracking the response would be the key, he added, underscoring several particularly prevalent points.  First, a balanced approach between prevention and treatment was crucial.  Second, it would be critical to ensure that human rights and gender equality were at the centre of any action.  He also highlighted the need for an evidence-based approach in order to focus on location and population and to “take AIDS out of isolation”.  That meant also strategically and efficiently linking funding for HIV and AIDS with broader health systems issues.

CHARLES THEMBANI NTWAAGAE (Botswana), associating himself with the African Group, said the fight against HIV and AIDS remained a key priority for his country’s national development plans, with 95 per cent of people living with HIV having access to antiretroviral drugs.  However, HIV and AIDS remained a domestic and global threat, he said, emphasizing that it should remain a top priority.  To control the epidemic, Botswana would implement the Most-At-Risk Populations Programme during 2017-2018, he said, urging Member States to continue to review national and global responses with a view to ending the epidemic by 2030.

CHRISTIAN WENAWESER (Liechtenstein) said legal, social and cultural barriers undermined efforts to combat HIV and AIDS at the national and international levels.  Only a comprehensive strategy would enable commitments to be delivered. While some countries had contributed to destigmatization, it was alarming that discrimination persisted in others, with homosexuality still a crime in almost 80 countries.  Women and girls’ access to sexual and reproductive rights and health services had proven successful in preventing HIV and AIDS, especially mother-to-child transmission, but that was by no means universal.  He said his country would continue to support HIV- and AIDS-related projects run by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and others, giving priority to prevention and vulnerable groups.

NEVILLE GERTZE (Namibia), associating himself with the African Group, said his country was among those most affected by HIV, with 14 per cent prevalence.  While a marked improvement over 18 per cent registered in 2010, young women and adolescent girls were most at risk of contracting the virus, due to a lack of sexual and health education and limited access to resources.  Namibia’s aggressive anti-HIV and AIDS campaign included an antiretroviral programme, rolled out in 2002, and a systematic focus on social and behaviour change, HIV counselling and testing, condom distribution, voluntary male circumcision and prevention of mother-to-child transmission.  The Government’s contribution to total HIV and AIDS spending had grown from 55 per cent in 2012-2013 to 64 per cent by 2013-2014.  It was conducting an 18-month assessment to examine the distribution of HIV and the impact of the prevention, care and treatment response.

MARTÍN GARCÍA MORITÁN (Argentina) said it was time to redouble political commitments and resources to end the HIV and AIDS epidemic. “We cannot allow the achievements made to date to weaken our commitment,” he said.  Argentina supported a human-rights- and gender-based approach, he said, adding that the promotion, protection and full enjoyment of all human rights for women and girls — including sexual and reproductive rights — was fundamental.  So, too, was universal access to health coverage and access to affordable quality medication. Reiterating support for UNAIDS, he said it should be provided with all necessary resources so that it could fulfil its mandate.

MAURO VIEIRA (Brazil) said that countries and regions must be able to respond to specific patterns of the epidemic.  For example, Governments of high‑prevalence epidemic countries must focus on the needs of populations that were at higher risk of infection.  In Brazil, there had been high incidences among people who use drugs and young men who have sex with men.  During the last 30 years, however, Brazil had made substantial progress.  Today, some 500,000 people benefited from antiretroviral therapy, he continued, stressing that the participation of civil society in designing and implementing HIV and AIDS programmes was a pivotal tool for progress.  Underscoring the need to reduce therapy prices, he emphasizing that public health must always prevail over commercial interests.  He also called on developed countries to keep their commitments to maintain and expand pledges and international cooperation in order to address collective challenges

MARIANNE LOE (Norway) said that HIV disproportionately affected young people.  Girls in sub-Saharan Africa were facing a “triple threat”:  a high risk of HIV infection, low rates of HIV testing and poor adherence to HIV treatment.  Education was one of the most powerful ways of improving people’s health and of making sure that the benefits were passed on to future generations.  Taking AIDS out of isolation remained imperative, she continued, underscoring the need to ensure that UNAIDS continued to deliver results within the realm of budgetary constraints and increased funding insecurity.  Noting that the female prison population was rising around the world, she said that the HIV prevalence rate among women in prison was much higher than those outside of prison.  Many children were unfortunately born in prisons, and there were no systems in place to prevent HIV transmission, or to even monitor transmission in such cases.

SUSAN WANGECI MWANGI (Kenya), associating herself with the African Group, said 1.5 million people in her country lived with HIV, with most new cases being among adolescents and young people.  To deal with the scourge, Kenya had adopted a data-driven and multi-sector HIV response, aimed at speeding up access to services for young people and the most vulnerable.  To combat HIV-related stigma, the Government had launched a “Kick Out HIV Stigma” campaign that sought to engage youth through county football leagues.  Mother-to-child transmission had declined from 16 per cent in 2012 to 8.3 per cent in 2015, but progress remained uneven across counties.  Emphasizing that high-burden countries like Kenya could not achieve HIV and AIDS targets without cooperation and support from partners such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, she called on Member States to commit themselves to closing the $7 billion investment gap required to end AIDS and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

MICHAEL GRANT (Canada) expressed concern that, in recent years, there had been no decrease in mortality and new infection rates.  He called for scaling up new approaches to reach key vulnerable populations with testing and treatment.  Adolescents, in the context of the epidemic, were poorly understood and challenging to reach, and as a consequence at heightened risk of getting infected.  He underscored that women and girls were agents of change, in their families and communities, and that their leadership must be fully integrated into the fight against the epidemic.  It was also important to bolster efforts fight tuberculosis, the leading cause of death among people infected with HIV and AIDS.  He welcomed the call to improve and strengthen UNAIDS methods and functionality in the broader efforts to accelerate reform within the greater United Nations system.  The fight against HIV and AIDS required collective efforts.

PETR ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) said that recent progress in fighting HIV instilled hope that the AIDS epidemic would be eliminated by 2030.  However, the Russian Federation could not agree with some provisions of the Secretary-General’s report on reinvigorating the AIDS response to catalyse sustainable development and United Nations reform, he said, emphasizing the need for a balanced response that reflected cultural and religious specificities.  The Russian Federation believed that the fundamental goal of public health approaches was not drug-related harm reduction, but ending the use of drugs for non-medicinal purposes.  He added that it was perplexing to consider that the criminalization of drugs and drug use was a barrier to AIDS-related services.  Punishment for drug-related crimes was the prerogative of States.  Responsible conduct, particularly among young people, should be encouraged and UNAIDS and UNICEF should coordinate their work in that regard.  The Russian Federation was working in a targeted way to prevent the spread of HIV through awareness-raising campaigns that included young people at school and work, he said, adding that a regional conference on HIV and AIDS would be held in Moscow in April 2018.

KATALIN ANNAMÁRIA BOGYAY (Hungary) said policies and programmes to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 must be ambitious, underpinned by political will, professional support and sufficient human and financial resources.  Sustainable financial support for prevention, screening and treatment was critical.  So, too, was the fight against stigma and discrimination, particularly in rural areas where transmission was less frequently detected.  She said Hungary had been quite successful in containing HIV and AIDS, with 90 per cent of those diagnosed as HIV-positive having access to antiretroviral therapy and almost 90 per cent of patients getting treatment being HIV-virus-free or having very low viral loads.  Every HIV patient moreover had access to the latest antiretroviral drugs for a very low fee.

MIRGUL MOLDOISAEVA (Kyrgyzstan) said his country was committed to the Political Declaration in accordance with national laws and priorities and with international human rights principles.  Kyrgyzstan’s national sustainable development strategy recognized the importance of addressing HIV and AIDS and a national programme would be adopted soon.  The Government was also in the process of identifying the largest number of people living with HIV and rapid testing was being carried out, with mobile clinics serving remote areas.  Discussions were also being held on existing challenges and solutions.  The economic hardships of developing States restricted their ability to finance HIV and AIDS programmes, he said, emphasizing that, without sufficient funding, many gains would be lost.  Achieving the agreed‑upon goals depended on States, civil society and international partners committing to progress.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), associating himself with ASEAN, said it was alarming that so many people who were HIV positive had no idea about their status.  That could lead to more infections and the transmission of the virus from pregnant mothers to their babies.  Highlighting steps taken by the Government, he said that it had been providing antiretroviral drugs at treatment centres throughout the country.  Moreover, the use of condoms was being promoted and mobile-testing was reaching communities particularly at risk.  Underscoring the need for legal and policy frameworks to support action, he cited several laws particularly related to the provision of reproductive health services.  The Government was also focusing on preventing mother-to-child transmission by conducting HIV tests and providing counselling services.  It was also encouraging responsible sexual behaviour that encompassed abstinence, fidelity and the consistent use of condoms.

HARALD BRAUN (Luxembourg), warning against yielding to self-satisfaction, expressed support for the Secretary-General’s call for a revolution in HIV testing.  It was thus important to strengthen testing services and increase access to them, he said, adding that girls’ education and food security also contributed to reducing HIV infection rates.  Noting his country’s financial contribution to HIV and AIDS efforts, he stressed the need to ensure the effective provision of resources.

STEFANIE AMADEO (United States) said UNAIDS data-driven evidence was critical in ensuring the greatest possible impact of global investments.  “Having the right data is vital to tracking progress,” she continued.  Highlighting the work of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a national programme aimed at combating the epidemic, she underscored her Government’s commitment to HIV prevention, detection and treatment.  The work, however, was far from done, she added, emphasizing the need to focus on preventing new cases of HIV infections and noting that young women and adolescent girls were at higher risk of infection.  Continued global solidarity and strategic investments put the world on a trajectory to end the HIV and AIDS epidemic.  “As a global community, we have made tremendous progress, but this is no time to slow down and rest on our laurels,” she stressed.  It would take all partners to work with commitment and focus to end the AIDS epidemic.

JUDITH MARCIA ARRIETA MUNGUIA (Mexico) said Member States and the United Nations system must scale up efforts to combat HIV and AIDS.  Mexico had the fourth-lowest rate of people living with HIV in the Americas.  There were still major challenges in key groups, however, including men who have sex with men and sex workers.  The involvement of young people, women and those living with HIV was critical.  Federal resources continued to be made available for civil society projects and projects in the area of prevention, detection and treatment.  Prevention policies were cost-effective when compared with other aspects of control.  Detection was fundamental, as well, she continued, underscoring the need to correctly identify key groups.  It was essential to support UNAIDS so that the Joint Programme could operate effectively as a United Nations agency and set standards at the global level.

RUBEN ZAMORA (El Salvador) said his country remained committed to achieving the health-related goals of the 2030 Agenda through integral reform of its health sector.  The purpose was to ensure quality treatment without any discrimination.  Primary prevention and early diagnosis was essential to contain the epidemic.  Concentrating efforts on populations at greatest risk, El Salvador had made great progress in the national response by investing in health, despite an unfavourable financial climate.  He cited a campaign that had reduced mother-to-child transmission of HIV and congenital syphilis to less than 2 per cent in line with the WHO goal to eliminate transmission of both diseases.  Moreover, retroviral therapy was provided free of charge and health workers were adequately trained in line with international guidelines.  El Salvador was working to strengthen the recording and monitoring of data on HIV and AIDS which enabled better understanding of the epidemic.

MANABU SUMI (Japan) said that the most effective means to ensure universal access to services was through the achievement of universal health coverage.  Achieving such coverage would require social restructuring and a firm commitment to the principle of “leaving no one behind”.  Health systems would need to mobilize large financial and human resources, he added, underscoring the need to place higher priority on health sector development, increasing domestic resource mobilization and enhancing the international framework to support developing countries.  Furthermore, it would be crucial to address the needs of those particularly vulnerable, including women and girls.  Japan had long played a major role in global health, supporting efforts of developing countries both bilaterally and multilaterally, through programmes such as UNAIDS and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

FABIENNE BARTOLI (France), associating herself with the European Union, said significant progress in the last 15 years had been made possible by an unprecedented level of mobilization among States, organizations and civil society.  Emphasizing an inclusive approach that left no one behind, she said France was committed to promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights in multilateral institutions.  At the national level, pre-exposure prophylaxes were available to people most at risk.  Expressing concern at the situation in West and Central Africa, she said France would continue to lend technical support to the work of UNAIDS in those regions.  Stressing the need for innovative and ambitious financing solutions, she said a tax on airline tickets and financial transactions enabled France to cover nearly 60 per cent of the annual budget of the international drug purchase facility UNITAID.  She went on to suggest that preparations be made for middle-income countries that would no longer be a part of international financing mechanisms, given that more than 50 per cent of those living with HIV were in those countries.

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Answer – Funding for communication campaigns by human rights NGOs – E-000068/2017

As the Commission referred to in its reply to Written Question E-007257/2016, one example of a European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) funded campaign on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons’ rights was an initiative undertaken by the NGO Institut Panos Afrique de l’Ouest (IPAO), with its five local partners, through a regional project called ‘Voices and ways against homophobia’ in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal. This project, supported by the Commission, focused specifically on communication and awareness rising against discrimination towards LGBTI persons. Such communication and advocacy campaigns are key in building support among public opinion for changing discriminatory laws and designing legal and public policies which respect human rights for all.

Furthermore, the EU also provides funding through the EIDHR for projects containing specific activities dedicated to awareness raising against discrimination based on sexual orientation and calling for equal treatment of LGBTI persons in the following countries: Albania, Armenia, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Georgia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Kosovo, Lesotho, Malawi, Montenegro, Namibia, Nicaragua, Peru, Russia, El Salvador, Serbia, South Africa and Turkey. The Commission is ready to provide examples with more details to the Honourable Member.

The Mid-Term Evaluation of the EIDHR(1), released in 2017, highlights that the instrument has contributed to the capacity of civil society to advocate and lobby for reform and that it has created more space for civil society to do so.

(1) https://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/public-consultation-external-financing-instruments-european-union_en
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Third Committee Approves 12 Draft Resolutions on Early Marriage, Bullying, Indigenous Peoples, as Children’s Rights Dominate Discussion

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) sent 12 draft resolutions to the General Assembly today, tackling a range of issues from corruption and crime prevention, social development and children’s rights, to the rights of indigenous peoples and racial discrimination.

The day focused heavily on the protection of children’s rights, with the approval of three draft resolutions without a vote.

By a draft resolution on child, early and forced marriage, the General Assembly would call on States and relevant stakeholders to develop and implement holistic and coordinated responses and strategies to eliminate those practices, and to support girls and women at risk or subjected to them.

The representatives of Qatar and Guyana – the latter speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community – expressed concern about the term “early marriage”, pointing out that it must be applied in line with national laws, as there was no international agreement on the issue.  Mexico’s representative said he deplored the tense discussions around the inclusion of sexual and reproductive rights, which were crucial for making progress.  Recalling that such language had been previously agreed, he expressed concern about replacing references to sexual and reproductive rights with diluted language.

Bullying emerged as another major concern in the protection of children’s human rights.  The related draft resolution would have the General Assembly call on States to share national experiences and best practices for preventing and tackling bullying, including cyberbullying.  It would invite the Secretary-General, within existing resources, to facilitate global efforts to raise awareness of bullying, including through United Nations specialized agencies, funds and programmes.

The traditional “rights of the child” draft resolution would see the Assembly express its profound concern that the situation of children in many parts of the world remained critical.  It would call on States to ensure the enjoyment of all human rights for children belonging to minorities and vulnerable groups and in vulnerable situations, including migrant children and indigenous children, as well as children placed in alternative care and within the juvenile justice system and in detention.

Prior to its approval, the Committee rejected an oral amendment to its operative paragraph 36, by recorded vote of 100 against, to 23 in favour, with 33 abstentions.  Sudan’s representative, introducing the change, said it would replace a reference to the International Criminal Court with the following:  “promptly bring them to justice as provided for by national laws and obligations under international law”.  He cautioned against imposing a legal system on States, stressing that the Court was not the sole instrument to dispense justice at the national, regional, and international levels.

Without a vote, the Committee then approved a draft resolution on the rights of indigenous peoples which would have the General Assembly encourage the engagement of indigenous peoples in implementing the outcome of the high-level Assembly plenary meeting, known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.  It would stress the importance of pursuing the objectives of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, especially through international cooperation to support national and regional efforts.

Bolivia’s representative, introducing the text also on behalf of Ecuador, encouraged Member States to make greater efforts in promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples and to increase their participation in national and international processes.

By a recorded vote of 122 in favour to 10 against (Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau, United Kingdom and United States), with 44 abstentions, the Committee approved a draft resolution on a global call for concrete action for the total elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and the comprehensive implementation of and follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.

Also approved by a recorded vote of 164 in favour, to 0 against, and 2 abstentions (Syria, Lao People’s Democratic Republic) was a draft resolution on the human rights treaty body system, by which the Assembly would invite the Chairs of those bodies to address its seventy-second and seventy-third sessions.

The Committee also approved without a vote draft resolutions on the implementation of the outcome of the World Summit for Social Development and of the twenty-fourth special session of the General Assembly; preventing and combating corrupt practices and the transfer of proceeds of corruption; strengthening the United Nations crime prevention and criminal justice programme and in particular its technical cooperation capacity; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the role of the ombudsman, mediator and other national human rights institutions in the promotion and protection of human rights; and missing persons.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 23 November, to continue its work.

Action

The Committee took up the draft resolution titled, “Preventing and combating corrupt practices and the transfer of proceeds of corruption, facilitating asset recovery and returning such assets to legitimate owners, in particular to countries of origin, in accordance with the United Nations Convention against Corruption” (document A/C.3/71/L.11/Rev.1).

An official from the Secretariat said the draft resolution would require voluntary funding to carry out its request for a Review Mechanism on the Implementation of the Convention.  As that Mechanism had a funding gap of $4,229,100, the draft’s adoption would require $435,200 to be added to the programme budget for the biennium 2018‑2019, but would not have budgetary implications for the biennium 2016‑2017.

The representative of Colombia, introducing the draft resolution, said it promoted the provisions of Chapter 5 of the Convention on preventing and detecting transfers and recovering and returning those assets through international cooperation.  Efforts also must be made to mitigate the effects of corruption on societies.

The representative of Nigeria expressed his support for the draft, stressing that returning assets to countries of origin would contribute to infrastructure investment and help eradicate poverty.

The resolution was approved by consensus.

By its terms, the General Assembly would call upon States Parties to the Convention against Corruption to cooperate to recover the proceeds of corruption.  It would call on States with practical experience in asset recovery to develop non-binding practical guidelines for that purpose.  At the seventy-third session, the Secretary-General would include in his report on crime prevention and criminal justice an analytical section titled “Preventing and combating corrupt practices and the transfer of proceeds of corruption, facilitating asset recovery and returning such assets to legitimate owners, in particular to countries of origin, in accordance with the United Nations Convention against Corruption”, and a report of the Conference of the States Parties to the Convention on its seventh session.

The representative of the Russian Federation expressed disappointment at the lack of desire by some States to support an international legal instrument for the return of assets, an issue she hoped to address again in the future.

The Committee then took up a draft resolution titled, “Strengthening the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Program, in particular Its Technical Cooperation Capacity” (document A/C.3/71/L.12/Rev.1).

The representative of Italy, a main sponsor, orally revised operative paragraph 16, adding the words “and artefacts” after the words, “trafficking in cultural property”, in recognition of the fact that cultural artefacts were the most trafficked items.  The draft resolution’s purpose was threefold:  to build consensus on the fight against transnational organized crime, promote the implementation of all pertinent United Nations instruments, and confirm the membership’s support for the Office on Drugs and Crime.  The draft did not address all relevant challenges, only those on which consensus could be reached.

The representative of South Africa said omission of the issue of extremism had weakened the text.  Preventive measures were needed to avert extremism from manifesting in violence.  In addition, operative paragraph 43 did not go far enough in addressing cybercrime, and it was imperative to elaborate an international normative framework to combat such behaviour.  She would continue to engage the sponsors to ensure those issues were considered in the future.

The Committee approved the draft resolution, as orally revised, by consensus.

The representative of the Russian Federation welcomed the approval of the draft, which her delegation had cosponsored.  However, she expressed regret that a paragraph pertaining to an international legal instrument to counter cybercrime had not made its way into the final text.  She hoped that issue would be considered during the Assembly’s seventy-second session.

The Committee then took note of three reports of the Secretary-General:  the follow-up to the Thirteenth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice and preparations for the Fourteenth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (document A/71/94), technical assistance for implementing the international conventions and protocols related to counter-terrorism (document A/71/96), and improving the coordination of efforts against trafficking in persons (document A/71/119).

The Committee then took action on draft resolution titled “Implementation of the outcome of the World Summit for Social Development and of the twenty-fourth special session of the General Assembly” (document A/C.3/71/L.5/Rev.1).

By its terms, the General Assembly would request the United Nations to continue to support national efforts to achieve inclusive social development in a coherent and coordinated manner.  It would urge States to fulfil all their commitments to meet the demands for social development, including social services and assistance that had arisen from the global financial and economic crisis, which particularly affected the poorest.  It would also stress the importance of promoting corporate social responsibility and accountability.

The representative of Thailand, on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, made a small technical change to operative paragraph 4, adding a comma before “and that it serves”.

The draft resolution was approved without a vote as orally revised.

The representative of the United States, while joining consensus, expressed concern about outdated language on the global financial crisis and trade-related issues, and thus disassociated from the related six paragraphs.  She also considered it unacceptable to include language on debt relief, noting that technology transfer must be voluntary and respect property rights.  She stressed the responsibility of all enterprises, regardless of their size and structure.

The representative of Armenia voiced regret about the selective nature of the draft resolution and therefore disassociated from operative paragraph 24.

The Committee then turned to draft resolution titled, “Child, early and forced marriage” (document A/C.3/71/L.13/Rev.1).

By its terms, the General Assembly would call on States and relevant stakeholders — including women and girls, parents and family, religious, traditional and community leaders, civil society, organizations led by girls, women’s groups, youth and human rights groups, men and boys, the media and the private sector — to develop and implement holistic and coordinated responses and strategies to eliminate child, early and forced marriage, and to support girls and women at risk or subjected to that practice.  The Secretary-General would be requested to submit a report on progress towards ending the practice worldwide.

The representative of Zambia orally revised operative paragraph 4, replacing the word “requiring” with “concerning”.  In operative paragraph 13, after the first instance of the word “including”, he replaced the phrase “their right” with “the right of women, and those girls who have been subjected to child, early and forced marriage”.

The draft resolution was approved as orally revised without a vote.

The representative of Mexico expressed concern about the tense discussions on sexual and reproductive rights, which were crucial in order to make progress in that area.  Recalling that such language had been previously agreed, he expressed concern about replacing references to sexual and reproductive rights with diluted language.

The representative of Guyana, on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said he had joined the consensus, pointing out that the concept of early marriage referenced in the draft resolution, and others, was subject to the national laws of CARICOM members.

The representative of Qatar expressed her reservation about the term “early marriage”, on which there was no international consensus and there existed national discrepancies.  National legislation and customs must be respected.

The representative of the Holy See drew attention to the harmful nature of early and child marriage, urging that both spouses have the appropriate age and maturity.  He voiced concern about the focus on the individual, saying that because reproductive rights were not recognized as international human rights, he could not affirm what was not in international human rights law.  He expressed reservations about sexual and reproductive rights, which must be seen as in the overall context of health.  Gender identity encompassed male and female, he added, stressing that parental rights must be protected.

The Committee then took up the draft resolution titled, “Protecting children from bullying” (document A/C.3/71/L.18/Rev.1). 

An official from the Secretariat said adoption of the draft resolution would require an additional $37,600 in 2018 for the production of a pre-session document in all six languages.

The representative of Mexico, introducing the draft resolution, said it was a response to requests from children, who according to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) survey, cited bullying as one of their principle concerns.  The text aimed to make the global problem of bullying more visible.

The draft resolution was approved by consensus.

By its terms, the Assembly would call on States to share national experiences and best practices for preventing and tackling bullying, including cyberbullying.  It would invite the Secretary-General, within existing resources, to facilitate global efforts to raise awareness of bullying, including through United Nations specialized agencies, funds and programmes, and to submit a report to the Assembly’s seventy-third session.

The representative of Slovakia, on behalf of the European Union, said the draft resolution would raise global awareness on an issue that many children and youth dealt with every day.  He looked forward to bullying being introduced into the omnibus resolution on the rights of the child, as many children were bullied because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  He expressed regret that that reality had not been incorporated into the text.

The representative of Iceland, on behalf of more than three dozen countries, recalled that children belonging to marginalized or vulnerable groups — including those with disabilities — from indigenous communities, migrants, refugees, or those from lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex communities, were at higher risk of bullying.  The draft resolution did not specify those groups.  No one should face exclusion because of how they were born, he stressed, expressing regret that many Member States disagreed with that principle. 

The Committee then took up a draft resolution on the rights of the child (document A/C.3/71/L.20/Rev.1).

By its terms, the Assembly would express its profound concern that the situation of children in many parts of the world remained critical.  It would urge States to withdraw reservations incompatible with the Convention on the Rights of the Child or its Optional Protocols, and to protect and promote the children’s right to express themselves freely.  It would urge States that had not yet done so to ratify the International Labour Organization’s Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), 32, and the Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138), 33.  States would be called on to ensure the enjoyment of all human rights for children belonging to minorities and vulnerable groups and those in vulnerable situations, including migrant children and indigenous children, as well as children placed in alternative care and within the juvenile justice system and in detention.

The representative of Uruguay, on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States and the European Union, introduced the draft resolution, praising the New York Declaration on Migrants and refugees for sending a strong message of political commitment to ensure a more humane and compassionate response to movements of people.  The draft called for preventing and eliminating all forms of discrimination against migrant children.  It incorporated resolutions of the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, and had been drafted following consultations with UNICEF and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict.

The representative of Sudan said that, through the African Group and during informal consultations, his country had rejected the inclusion of a reference to the International Criminal Court.  However, their position had been rejected by the facilitators and he therefore had no choice but to introduce an oral amendment to operative paragraph 36.  It would delete the phrase, “inter alia, through the International Criminal Court”, and replace it with the following:  “and calls upon the international community to hold those responsible for violations accountable, and promptly bring them to justice as provided for by national laws and obligations under international law.”  While he agreed on the importance of the draft resolution, it was crucial not to impose a legal system on States.  He expressed regret that certain Assembly resolutions were being exploited to promote the Court.  That body was not the sole instrument to dispense justice at the national, regional, and international levels, and he called upon all to support the amendment.

The representative of Uruguay said he regretted that he had not been informed earlier about the proposed amendment, noting that the same language had been approved in earlier resolutions on the rights of the child.  He requested a vote on the proposed amendment and urged those who had worked on the draft to vote against the amendment.

The representative of Slovakia, on behalf of the European Union before the vote, expressed disappointment about the amendment.  The paragraph in question was a longstanding one and had received strong cross-regional support during informal consultations.  The bloc had worked hard to build consensus on the text. He supported the Court, could not accept the amendment and urged others to vote against it.

The representative of Lichtenstein, on behalf of Australia, Canada, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, said the oral amendment sought to change language that had been agreed for more than ten years.  The Court played an important role in addressing children in armed conflict, and therefore, reference to it was relevant and appropriate.  She expressed regret that consensus had been undermined and called upon all delegations to vote against the amendment.

The Committee rejected the amendment by a recorded vote of 100 against to 23 in favour, with 33 abstentions.

The Committee approved draft resolution L.20/Rev.1 without a vote.

The representative of the United States said her country had joined consensus on the text.  Voicing her concerns, she said countries could not be held accountable under international agreements and treaties to which they were not party.  She reiterated support for migrant children and their dignity and rights in accordance with applicable national laws.  She also expressed concern about the lack of transparency and inclusiveness in negotiations on the draft.

The representative of Ghana, on behalf of the African Group, said the draft resolution was among the most important.  However, he had several reservations.  Many proposals had been ignored while other critical issues had not been treated in a comprehensive manner, such as food security and children and armed conflict.  He had not joined consensus on language about sexual and reproductive services and rights.

The representative of Sudan expressed concern about references to sexual and reproductive health care services, as mentioned in operative paragraph 33, noting that his country had disassociated from such language.  He also recalled Sudan’s position on the International Criminal Court, as expressed through the amendment.

The representative of the Russian Federation said her Government prioritized children’s rights and she deplored that the main sponsors had not conducted negotiations in an open and transparent manner.  She could not agree with operative paragraph 36 on the International Criminal Court and had disassociated from that language.

The representative of Saudi Arabia, on behalf of Gulf Cooperation Council, expressed support for the draft resolution and the protection of children’s rights, emphasizing that action must consider national, cultural and regional conditions.

The representative of Switzerland expressed support for the draft resolution, stressing the need to protect migrant children and apply all relevant international human rights law.

The representative of Yemen said children’s protection must be a priority, especially in emergency situations.  He expressed regret about language on sexual and reproductive health care services, which was not in line with national obligations, and he therefore had disassociated from those paragraphs.

The representative of Iran, stressing that his country was committed to implementing all agreed obligations, said the creation of new obligations was unacceptable.

The representative of Singapore, while expressing concern about contentious issues in the draft resolution, nonetheless reiterated her support for the text.

The representative of Morocco said her country had made the strategic choice to work for the protection of children’s rights, and thus, had joined consensus. However, language on the International Criminal Court had not achieved consensus.

The Committee then took note of the report of the Committee on the Rights of the Child at its sixty-sixth, sixty-seventh, sixty-eighth, sixty-ninth, seventieth and seventy-first sessions (document A/71/41); and of the Secretary-General on the status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (document A/71/413), and on Collaboration within the United Nations system on child protection (document A/71/277).

The Committee went on to take action on draft resolution titled ¨The rights of indigenous peoples¨ (document A/C.3/71/L.17/Rev.1).

By its terms, the Assembly would encourage the engagement of indigenous peoples in the implementation of the outcome of the Assembly’s high-level plenary meeting, known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.  It would stress the importance of pursuing the objectives of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, especially through international cooperation to support national and regional efforts.

The representative of Bolivia, introducing the draft also on behalf of Ecuador, stressed that greater efforts must be made to implement the relevant international agreements, noting that the high-level meeting planned for the 2017 session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was beneficial in that regard.  Indigenous peoples could not be left behind in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  She also expressed hope that more progress could be made in increasing the participation of indigenous peoples at all levels.

The Committee approved the draft resolution without a vote.

The representative of Ecuador reiterated his commitment to advance indigenous peoples’ rights.  Stressing the importance of implementing the 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, he drew attention to the importance of protecting and promoting indigenous languages.

The representative of France, on behalf of Bulgaria and Romania, recognized individual rights, rather than collective rights, stressing the need for non-discrimination.

The representative of the United Kingdom said there were no collective human rights except for that to self-determination.  Individuals must not be left vulnerable.

The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania recalled that there were no indigenous peoples in her country, as internationally defined.

The representative of the Russian Federation said her country supported indigenous peoples and their rights, as well as the draft resolution.  The Government also supported greater participation of indigenous peoples at the United Nations, in line with the Organization’s rules of procedure.

The representative of Cameroon pointed out that the loss of languages did not only affect indigenous communities.  Therefore, languages under threat must be preserved, protected and promoted.  The planned high-level event was informal.  If it was a formal high-level event, intergovernmental negotiations would have been required.  All obligations must be in line with international agreements.

The Committee then took note of the Secretary-General’s note transmitting the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the status of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples (document A/71/228).

The representative of Belgium, also speaking on behalf of Slovenia and other co-sponsors, presented a draft resolution titled, “International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination” (document A/C.3/71/L.47).  He orally amended three operative paragraphs, noting that the draft addressed several elements that were important for ensuring implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the work of its Committee.  He expressed hope the draft would be approved by consensus.

The draft resolution was approved without a vote as orally revised.

By its terms, the General Assembly would invite the Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to present an oral report on its work and engage in an interactive dialogue with the Assembly at its seventy-second and seventy-third sessions.

The Committee then took up a draft resolution titled “A global call for concrete action for the total elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and the comprehensive implementation of and follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action” (document A/C.3/71/L.48/Rev.1).

By its terms, the Assembly would call upon States that had not done so to consider acceding to and/or ratifying the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  It would express its grave concern at the lack of progress in elaborating complementary standards to the Convention and request the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to develop a racial equality index aimed at measuring States’ performance in promoting substantive equality and inclusive societies.  It would also lay out a series of measures to revitalize international human rights mechanisms.

An official from the Secretariat announced that implementing the requests contained in the draft resolution would require additional recurrent resources starting in 2017 for the travel of five experts for each of the annual sessions of the four Durban follow-up mechanisms.  Adoption of the draft would give rise to annual requirements of $90,400 starting in 2017, but would not have programme budget implications for the biennium 2016–2017.

The representative of Thailand, on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, orally revised operative paragraph 22 adding the word “previous” before the word “invitation” in the first line.  She urged States to support the draft.

The resolution was put to a vote at the request of the delegation of Israel.

The representative of Israel said her country had hoped the Durban Conference would have created a meaningful and unpoliticized instrument to fight racism, xenophobia and related intolerance.  That goal had not been achieved because a group of countries had hijacked the proceedings to demonize Israel.  Her country therefore had not participated in subsequent meetings to commemorate the adoption of the Durban Programme of Action.  Israel had a consistent policy prohibiting discrimination and would leave the door open for future collaboration in an unpoliticized manner.

The representative of Slovakia, on behalf of the European Union, said the bloc was committed to the total elimination of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance but those challenges should be tackled in a balanced and comprehensive way at the national region and international levels through ratification and implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  The European Union was committed to the objectives of the Durban Conference, but a number of proposals it had put forward during informal consultations had not been reflected in the draft.  He said the bloc did not agree with operative paragraph 7 and therefore would not support the draft resolution.

The representative of the United States said her country’s commitment to fight racism was rooted in the saddest chapters of its history.  The United States would work with countries of goodwill to combat racism and raise the profile of the International Decade for People of African Descent.  She underscored the costs the draft resolution would bear on the regular budget and would vote against it.

The representative of the Syria said it was not shocking that Israel had requested a vote because in 2001 it had not been invited to the Durban Conference.  Israel, an occupying State, was built on discrimination and the occupation of Palestinian land.  Israel continued to erect walls of discrimination separating Palestinians from their land and identity.  Syria would vote for the draft resolution.

The draft resolution was approved by a recorded vote of in 122 favour, to 10 against (Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau, United Kingdom and United States), with 44 abstentions.

The Committee then took note of two notes of the Secretary-General, the first transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (document A/71/301), and the second on the latest developments with regard to the Group of independent experts on the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (document A/71/288).

The representative of Iceland, speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, introduced a draft resolution on the “Human rights treaty body system” (document A/C.3/71/L.19/Rev.1), which he said combined two texts traditionally submitted on the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and on human rights covenants.  It also addressed the treaty body system as a whole, continuing efforts to ensure coherence.  The draft put in place measures that increased cost efficiency and provided for a new capacity-building component to support State party reporting.  He expressed hope it supported the implementation of resolution 68/268 and strengthened the human rights treaty body system.

He then asked who had requested the vote, to which the Secretariat official replied that Syria had requested the vote.

The draft resolution was then approved by a recorded vote of 164 in favour, to 0 votes against, with 2 abstentions (Syria, Lao People’s Democratic Republic).

By its terms, the draft resolution would see the General Assembly invite the Chairs of the human rights treaty bodies to address and engage in an interactive dialogue at the seventy-second and seventy-third sessions.  The Assembly would encourage all stakeholders to continue their efforts to fully implement resolution 68/268 on the strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system.

The representative of Austria expressed surprise at having had to vote on the draft resolution, and “in the spirit of working together constructively” questioned why it had been put to a vote.

The representative of Iceland expressed “regret and surprise” at having had to vote on the draft resolution, noting that Syria’s delegation had not engaged during negotiations to indicate any problems with the text.  That was unacceptable behaviour which was not in line with decorum.

The representative of Syria, on a point of order, confirmed that it had not participated in informal negotiations.

Invited by the Secretariat to finish his statement, the representative of Iceland declined, saying the statement by Syria’s representative spoke for itself.

The Committee then turned to a draft resolution on the role of the ombudsman, mediator and other national human rights institutions in the promotion and protection of human rights (document A/C.3/71/L.40/Rev.1).

By its terms, the Assembly would express regret that the Secretary-General once again had not provided a report on the implementation of Assembly resolutions on the role of the ombudsman, mediator and other national human rights institutions, despite the request in resolution 69/168, and called upon him to submit that report at the seventy-second session.  It would recall the request that he report in particular on obstacles encountered by States in implementing resolution 69/168, and best practices in the work of the ombudsman, mediator and other human rights institutions.

A representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) took the floor to explain that the report requested by General Assembly resolution 69/193 to be presented during the Assembly’s seventy- first session, had not been published.  She expressed regret for the misunderstanding with the representative of Morocco.

The representative of Morocco explained that draft resolution L.40/Rev.1 was procedural, intended to put into effect the two preceding resolutions on the topic.  She welcomed the willingness of OHCHR to present a report at the next General Assembly session, emphasizing that Morocco was committed to re-establishing the biannual nature of the text.

The draft resolution was approved by consensus.

The Committee took up a draft resolution titled “Missing persons” (document A/C.3/71/L.41/Rev.1).

The draft resolution was approved without a vote.

By its terms, the General Assembly would call on States to take measures to prevent persons from going missing in connection with armed conflict and to determine the identity and fate of those missing.  It would also call on States to take steps on the legal situation of missing persons and the needs of their family members in such areas as social welfare, psychological and psychosocial support, financial matters, family law and property rights.  The Secretary-General would be called upon to submit a report on the implementation of the resolution.

The representative of Armenia, in a general statement, said her country, traditionally a co-sponsor, and had joined consensus on the text.  From a practical, humanitarian perspective, all parties to conflict should cooperate with the International Committee of the Red Cross and play a role in determining the fate of missing persons.

The Committee then took note of numerous reports and notes of the Secretary-General, the Secretariat and relevant Committees under its sub-items 68 (a), (b) and (c).

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Press Releases: Remarks at the Release of the 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN: I want to thank the Secretary, not just for his remarks; he made a number of commitments of support for this work when I came on, and he has more than fulfilled those commitments.

The Annual International Religious Freedom Report provides an important opportunity for the United States to highlight an issue that continues to be a foreign policy priority for the Administration, documenting how, where, and when the universal right of freedom of religion or belief was violated or protected in every corner of the world.

Through the immense effort of countless State Department officials, particularly our knowledgeable and tireless staff of the International Religious Freedom Office and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in Washington, as well as dedicated staff in each one of our embassies across the globe, the 2014 report maintains the high standards of objectivity and accuracy for which we strive.

A little over a year ago, I stood at a podium next to Secretary Kerry here in this room when he announced my nomination for the position of Ambassador-at-Large, and during my 10-month tenure I have been gratified by the support from both the Secretary and the President in implementing so many of the priorities I identified in my confirmation hearing and my swearing-in speech. We have since increased the number of staff in my office, allowing us to expand our country monitoring work and better address a variety of issues – from the importance of religious freedom and countering violent extremism to the terrible global impact of blasphemy laws. Simultaneously, we have expanded foreign assistance programs that strengthen religious freedom.

I’m also deeply appreciative of President Obama’s and Secretary Kerry’s support for the appointment of Knox Thames as special advisor for religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia; I’m delighted that he’s able to be with us today. Knox will build upon our already intense efforts on behalf of these minorities over the past year, including our work to protect Yezidis in those early days and weeks on Mount Sinjar in Iraq and the Assyrian Christian communities of the Khabur River area of Syria. Knox will help guide the U.S. Government-wide efforts to promote conditions in these countries that will allow members of displaced minority communities to be able to return home.

Since January, I’ve also worked to build deeper partnerships with foreign governments to advance religious freedom as these global challenges require a global response. Thanks to the leadership of my Canadian counterpart, Ambassador Andrew Bennett, we have forged an intergovernmental contact group bringing together likeminded nations to devise common strategies to promote and protect religious freedom for all.

Now, during my tenure I’ve noticed certain enduring truths. In many countries, religious freedoms flourish; people are free to choose their faith, change their faith, speak about their faith to others, teach their faith to their children, dissent from religion, build places of worship, worship alone or in fellowship with others. In such societies, denominations and faith groups organize as their leaders and members see fit. Interfaith cooperation flourishes, religious communities contribute significantly to the social welfare and serve as a moral compass to their nations.

Yet in far too many countries people face daunting, alarming, growing challenges on account of their beliefs. In countries where once proud traditions of multi-faith cooperation, positive coexistence was the norm, we have witnessed growing numbers of religious minorities being driven out of their historic homelands. And in too many countries, prisoners of conscience suffer cruel punishment for their religious beliefs and practices. This report gives a voice to all those around the world who are seeking to peacefully live their lives in accordance with their conscience or religious beliefs.

In the pages of this report, we strive to put a human face on this incredibly important human right that touches so many people across the globe and remains central to the identity of the American people.

A number of trend lines stood out in this year’s report. The first one, the Secretary has already mentioned, is the single greatest challenge to religious freedom worldwide, or certainly the single greatest emerging challenge, and that is the abhorrent acts of terror committed by those who falsely claim the mantle of religion to justify their wanton destruction.

In both Iraq and Syria, Daesh has sought to eliminate anyone daring to deviate from its own violent and destructive interpretation of Islam. Targets include non-Muslims, Shia, Sunnis alike. It has displaced individuals from their homes based on their religions or ethnicity. Similarly, Boko Haram has killed thousands in both indiscriminate violence and deliberate attacks on Christians and Muslims who oppose its radical ideology. It has subjected the peoples of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, to unspeakable acts of terror, sexual violence, abductions, and fatal attacks on places of worship.

Secondly, the impact of blasphemy laws and apostasy laws in countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, and in a number of others – as well as laws that purport to protect religious sentiments from offense. The United States uniformly opposes such laws which are used to oppress those whose religious beliefs happen to offend the majority. Such laws are inconsistent with international human rights and fundamental freedoms, and we will continue to call for their universal repeal. The existence of such laws has been used in some countries as pretext to justify violence in the name of religion to create an atmosphere of impunity for those resorting to violence and/or leads to false claims of blasphemy.

Third, repressive governments routinely subject their citizens to violence, detention, discrimination, undue surveillance, for simply exercising their faith or identifying with a religious community. We see this dramatized by the plight of countless numbers of prisoners of conscience. We remain deeply committed to seeing such individuals freed everywhere in the world.

In my travels to Vietnam, I saw firsthand how religious groups are forced to undergo onerous and arbitrary registration process to legally operate. As Vietnam considers amending its religion laws, we stand with the country’s religious communities in calling for the easing of such restrictions. And in Burma, Ambassador Bennett of Canada and I spoke out forcefully together against a series of discriminatory laws banning interfaith marriage and restricting conversion.

Many governments have used the guise of confronting terrorism or extremism to broadly repress religious groups for nonviolent religious activities, or by imposing broad restrictions on religious life. Russia continues to use vaguely formulated anti-extremism laws to justify arrests, raids on homes and places of worship, and the confiscation or banning of religious literature. Tajikistan bans people under age of 18 from participating in any public religious activities, supposedly on the ground that exposure to religion will lead youths to violence. Chinese officials have increased controls on Uighur Muslims’ peaceful religious expression and practice, including instances of banning beards and headscarves.

And a word about China: During my visit in August, I found that despite widespread, continuing government abuses and restriction, many places of worship were nonetheless full and flourishing. In areas of the country where the government’s hand was lighter, faith-based social service and welfare agencies operating homeless shelters, orphanages, soup kitchens, made highly positive contributions to the wellbeing of their society. We’ve urged the Chinese Government to use that as a model of what can work nationwide. But far more often restrictive policies still stifled religious life, preventing Chinese people from experiencing such benefits. This reality has only been exacerbated by the growing crackdown on human rights lawyers in China, including those seeking to work within China’s legal system to enhance religious freedom. And this does include Zhang Kai, a peaceful, respected, Christian human rights lawyer who was detained just prior to a meeting with me and whose whereabouts remain unknown.

A fourth trend is the role of societal violence and discrimination, that which emanates not from the government itself but from other societal groups. And the question is: What does the government do to try and ameliorate the conditions that lead to such violence, and what does it do to protect harassed minority communities? In Europe, many governments are struggling to cope with the aftermath of terror attacks such as those in France, Belgium and Denmark, along with increased anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim actions and sentiments. As hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis and others have fled into Europe in recent weeks, we urge governments to uphold their obligations for humane treatment of refugees and ensuring that individuals do not face harassment or discrimination on account of their Muslim faith.

Now, despite these many challenges detailed in our report, we also see governments and individuals working to improve their communities and societies. Following the terror attacks in Copenhagen in February, thousands of people of different faiths formed in Denmark a human ring outside the synagogue where the murder occurred. In September of 2014, Kyrgyzstan’s constitutional court ruled part of the country’s problematic religion law unconstitutional, a decision we hope will ease registration requirements for minority religious groups and enable members to engage in peaceful religious activities more freely.

After years of growing religious tensions and violence in Sri Lanka generated by hardline ethnic Buddhist groups, a new government has taken office and staked out a much more tolerant view of religious diversity. Since that time, some of these tensions have noticeably eased.

In closing, while the challenges are daunting, we are deeply inspired by the work of countless religious communities, civil society organizations, and individuals around the world working alongside us to ensure that their governments live up to their international commitments to protect freedom of religious and belief. We dedicate our work to their struggle and continue to fight for a world in which every individual is free to live out the core of his or her conscience.

I’m now happy to answer any questions.

MR TONER: Any takers? Go ahead, David.

QUESTION: You’ve sketched out a number of things that are going badly and a few things that are going well. Is it possible to look at a global trend? Are things better than they were when you took office or worse, globally?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN: If you look at the Pew reports that I believe are a year behind our reports, over the last several years there’s been a steady increase in the percentage of people who live in countries that are – that have serious restrictions on religious freedom. And of course, as both the Secretary and I pointed out, the escalation of the violence perpetrated by non-state actors, often in the name of their interpretation of religion, is a new phenomenon that has really escalated in the last 18 months. So on that level, there are trends that are deeply troubling.

At the same time, if you look and for – just take one example in Europe, and you look at the acts of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim activity that took place, across Europe leaders of the different countries and civil society leaders and religious leaders have all spoken out condemning these acts, taking steps to help prevent these acts, standing in protection of minority communities with many governments deploying either police or militia to protect endangered minority communities. And we’ve seen enormous expansion of interfaith efforts on almost every continent to try and address the challenges.

So it’s hard to give you the sum between the dangerous and the encouraging parts of it. This report doesn’t make those kinds of judgment. It just states in facts what is happening in each and every country.

MR TONER: Barbara.

QUESTION: Just to follow up the China situation, have the Chinese Government responded in any way to your questions about the detention of this Zhang Kai, I think his name is? And also, what are the circumstances of the people who were detained around the same time? And sorry – finally, how do you explain that balance or that kind of mixed message between religious – a certain amount of religious freedom or expression, but on the other hand increasing restrictions, especially when you were actually there?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN: So let me clarify what the situation was. At the very end of our time in mainland China, these detentions took place. One was of somebody – someone with a human rights legal background who had met with us to give the analysis that that person brought to bear on the subject, who was detained the next day in house detention.

About 10 of the people from the community of Wenzhou – now that, I’m sure, many of you have read about. That’s a community where there’s been an escalation of efforts to take down crosses from a few hundred churches, to dismantle some churches in Wenzhou. And we wanted to meet with people there. We were denied permission to actually travel there, but we were allowed to go to the capital of that province. And that group of people – including three human rights lawyers, four pastors from the area, three or four other activists, a group of about 10 people – were all detained.

Several of them have been released. Several of them still face the possibility of charges. And with Zhang Kai, who really is one of the most respected human rights lawyers in China, someone who has argued over and over again that they have to work within the legal system of China in order to win these battles and has proved very skilled at doing that, representing a range of religious groups, he and I believe one or two or the others are still in locations where we’re not sure where they are. This is not an uncommon occurrence. And on – our human rights bureau has reached out in all their encounters. We’re trying to talk about these problems in a structural level. We have continued to ask questions. We will continue on this. And we hope that we will get answers.

Just on one foot – again, the report doesn’t make the judgments about why these disparity of experiences, these encouraging signs and these deeply discouraging signs, live side by side in the same country. It just sets out the facts and allows you folks to provide the interpretation.

MR TONER: Nicole.

QUESTION: Thanks for doing this, Mr. Ambassador. The report talks about a wave of anti-Israel sentiment in Europe in 2014 that crossed the line into anti-Semitism. And I’m wondering if you could explain to us how you defined where that line was. What constituted anti-Israel action or sentiment versus anti-Semitic?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN: We actually have a very brief paper on that. If you’d like, we can provide that to you. But just very quickly here, criticism of the public policy of any nation – Israel, the United States, China, a European nation, African nation, Asian nation – no matter what the nation is, that’s appropriate. That’s part of the free marketplace of ideas and discourse.

Where it has often crossed the line is when groups try to argue that Israel is an inherently illegal state and doesn’t have a right to exist as a Jewish state here and takes actions to de-legitimize those fundamental rights. It comes – it’s right on the cusp of that line when it holds one country to different standards than it would hold any other country. Normally we think of that as the denial of rights to a person that are given to other similarly situated people, or the imposition of obligations on a person not applied to other people. We normally think of that as racism. And this, in the minds of many, feels that when it steps over that line, that it constitutes anti-Semitic activity and not just anti-legitimate discourse about Israel’s policies.

MR TONER: In the back. Michele.

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN: Hi, Michele.

QUESTION: Hi, how are you? When you look at what ISIS is doing in the Middle East, would you describe that as a war on Christians? What more could the U.S. do to protect communities like that or to help resettle people here? And then finally, what would you tell Russia about Bashar al-Assad’s record on protecting minorities in that country?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN: That’s a broad range of issues. Let me try to do this quickly, working backwards. The – Assad’s record is absolutely clear. We have made that clear to the world. I think there’s overwhelming consensus in the global community about the horrific abuses of human rights that the Assad regime has been engaged in. And so Russia’s intervention doesn’t change what our message on that has been.

In terms of bringing people here, the President has announced an expansion in the number of refugees that we will be taking in. It is presumed a number of those will include – of the expansion will include people from that – will include people from that region.

We have worked vigorously on the issue of protecting the minority communities. ISIL is certainly targeting the Christian community, but is also targeting the Mandaeans, the Shabak, certainly the Yezidis that explicitly said it wanted to wipe out here. So it is trying to decimate and eviscerate the presence of those very communities here. And we know that if there’s going to be a possibility to bring them home, we know what the ingredients are going to be. I’ve spoken on this publicly to a number of the major Christian groups who are concerned about this, but also the groups that are concerned about the – in meetings with the Yezidi, the Shia Muslim groups from the area who are affected by this as well.

That is, we need to sustain them where they are in place at a condition that they’re going to be willing to stay – mostly in Kurdistan – until ISIL’s presence is removed. And we clearly need to remove ISIL’s presence for them to return home. That means there have to be schools for their kids, there has to be better health care, there have to be job opportunities for their kids who are graduating school, et cetera. And the United States is the lead factor in providing that kind of humanitarian aid.

Secondly, there needs to be a security system when they return home in which they can trust, because a lot of that trust was breached when ISIL came in. And they need their own – the right to have their own effective defense forces that have to be integrated with the Iraqi and Peshmerga forces.

Third, there has to be a restorative justice, a transitional justice system. People go back to their communities; some of their former neighbors have taken over their businesses, their homes. There has to be a system that will fairly adjudicate that and hold people responsible who assisted ISIL.

Fourth, at a macro level in Iraq, there has to be a change in the governance structures that allow those minority groups to have a real role in shaping the future of the country. Prime Minister Abadi has made clear that that is his intent. We see some of that represented in appointments that he’s made, and the United States is working with the Iraqi Government on that day in and day out.

And finally, there has to be an internationally engaged plan on the economic rebuilding so that people will have a sense of hope for the future. We know what those ingredients are. The United States, often together with the UN or other nations, are working on planning in this. And that’s very important because if it were – we waited until ISIL was pushed out, it would leave a vacuum that chaos would potentially descend.

And so we know what needs to be done. We’re working on those things – and pushing very hard – that will benefit the Christian community. I mean, think about it. There’s been a Christian community there for 1600 years. Across the Nineveh plain, church bells have pealed for 1600 years. Today they are silent. And we are not going to rest until people have a right to live out their religious lives back in their home communities in accordance with their conscience.

MR TONER: A couple more questions.

QUESTION: Thank you. On North Korea and on religious freedom and human rights in North Korea, in North Korea they detained many of the religions and the pastors for past years, then they are still in prisons. So how – would you please tell us: How many U.S. citizens still in the North Korean prisons? Can you guess how many U.S. citizen pastors or religions or whatever citizens?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN: First, as you know, Korea remains a country of particular concern for us. It is one of the worst violators of human rights in the entire world. We have talked about that over and over again. The countries of particular concern who were this past year continue this year. I think everyone knows that list – Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan.

Secondly, we continue – we don’t have direct relations, so we continue through international partners and by mobilizing these international coalitions to put continuing pressure for North Korea to ease its restrictions on religious freedom and to let every one of those prisoners of conscience – and there are far, far too many, and they often face brutal conditions in the prisons – to go.

And finally, the United States Government is always working, day in and day out, to ensure that its citizens who are imprisoned unjustly without due process and for the exercise of fundamental internationally protected rights are allowed to go free, and/or encounter a judicial system that does provide due process and fairness. We do that as best we can through the international contacts with North Korea going on every day on an ongoing basis.

The question of how many, I actually don’t know the answer to. The specific cases we can’t comment on. American privacy laws protect us from – protect them from allowing us to talk about their situation, and they’re not in a position to give us authority and permission to do that. So we can’t comment on the individual cases.

MR TONER: Pam.

QUESTION: In your outreach to countries to address religious freedom concerns, do you ever get pushback from governments who may view the idea of religious freedom as a Western concept?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN: We do, and it has been somewhat of a growing phenomenon. Here – we therefore make it clear over and over again we are not trying to impose the standards of Western countries, of countries of any particular majorities – religious majorities – here, or American, European standards on any of these countries. Almost all of these countries we’re dealing with are signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Article 18 is quite clear about a robust application of religious freedom. We regard these as internationally protected rights, and it is within that guise that we deal with it.

Let me just point out, however, that we respect the varied traditions of people up to the point it violates those international norms. We try to engage with them on their terms to find ways to address what concerns they might have about defamation of religion, about attacks on religion, about the questions of what religiously would be – would constitute blasphemy by finding non-legal ways to deal with that. The passage of UN Resolution 1618 is a prime example of that. It enjoyed the support of the OIC in passing it. It looks at non-penal ways to address some of these questions.

And we have set up a very effective training program drawing on the Justice Department, the Homeland Security Department, and the State Department. Working with other experts around the world, we’re out in other countries doing training programs about this, and the countries – it’s been a handful of countries we’ve done a test run on, and now we’re going to be expanding this in a much more global reach. It’s one of the things that I’m focused on doing. And that’s where we engage people where they are and try and bring them in ways to address their concerns within international legal norms.

MR TONER: Really, last few questions. In the back there and then Nicole.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador, for your time. The Syria Catholic patriarch last week said that Christians in the Middle East feel like the West has abandoned them. How do you respond, and how can this report help in their crisis right now?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN: Sometimes there are competing truths – two things that are absolutely true here. There is a robust effort of the developed world – of the democratic world, excuse me – to help protect the Christian communities. They are – all of the efforts that we’re doing in terms of supporting the humanitarian needs of Syrian refugees, of Iraqi refugees; of working with the Government of Iraq in the lines – along the lines that I was talking about in the international community manifest that. Day in and day out there isn’t a single day that we are not doing more and more. The – bringing Knox Thames, such a respected advocate of religious freedom – for those of you who don’t know Knox, he had been the director of policy and research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, widely respected in the field – who hit the ground running when he came on just within the last couple of weeks, he’s going to be working side by side with me and with our international counterparts and with every arm of our government that is doing programs, working on defense training and work with countries in the area here (inaudible) the intelligence communities, all of the human rights work that we’re doing here, to help really strengthen the work on behalf of these minorities.

That’s one reality. I mean, I could talk for hours about what is being done, the programmatic work that’s being done – the relief and humanitarian work, et cetera. They’re in the middle of a horrific war situation. Every day their lives could be imperiled. There’s no magic button that can fix this. It is – as the President has said, it is going to be long, steady progress here until we can reach the kind of goals that we want. If you’re living there and you fear for the well being of your family every day, certainly you’re going to feel like the world isn’t doing enough about it. It’s a paradox. We recognize that reality. We do everything we can to ameliorate that, to offer greater protection and to meet the needs of these communities, and we won’t cease doing so until they really are able to live in freedom in accordance with their conscience.

MR TONER: Nicole, last question (inaudible) sorry.

QUESTION: Does the State Department consider efforts by Western countries to ban the Muslim headdress or the Muslim covering for women as a repression of religious freedom?

And second, very quick, if you can. Iran, Saudi Arabia – which one is more respectful of religious freedom? Thanks.

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN: Both of them, as you heard, are on the list of the countries of particular concern here and continue to be on that list, Nicole. So we don’t make judgments about which are better and worse. Both of those countries have structural, systematic, egregious violations. Minority in Saudi Arabia – no one other than Muslim community can worship openly, can partake in their religious life openly. Even when they do it privately, often they’re harassed and interfered with. These are very serious challenges and problems. In Iran, we have very serious problems as well. Again, the Shia Muslim community – interpretation of Islam dominates the legal structure, the culture of the country. Other Muslims find themselves – Mahdi Muslims find themselves in trouble; in the Baha’i community, systematically oppressed. Almost every minority group faces restrictions and are discriminated against in one form or another.

So they are both – have very serious problems. Read the report; you would have to make the judgment yourself which is the worst here.

QUESTION: And the headdress issue?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN: Say again?

QUESTION: The headdress issue?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN: Yeah – yes. We have taken a position in our approach to this that exercise of freedom of religion and belief allows people to make determinations about what their appropriate re0ligious garb would be. If women feel they have to have their heads covered, if Sikhs believe that they have to wear turbans, this is their right. If Jews believe they have to wear yarmulkes, kippot to cover their head, this should be the determination that each and every person makes. There may be circumstances in which there are compelling reasons – simply the need to identify someone or safety reasons – you can’t wear a turban working around equipment that could catch a turban. If you got to wear a safety helmet, you got to wear a safety helmet.

So accommodations should be made as far as possible. Those exceptions are really few and far between. We believe that people’s right to live in accordance with their conscience includes the right to use religious garb and religious dress. We’ve been critical of other democratic countries as well as nondemocratic countries that have put such restrictions, and we hope in the future things will ease enough that – and will be seen in a different perspective that this restriction of religious freedom will be allowed to fade away.

MR TONER: Thank you all, appreciate it. Thank you, Ambassador.

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN: Thank you.

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Motion for a resolution on the displacement of children in Northern Nigeria as a result of Boko Haram attacks – B8-2015-1031

The European Parliament,

–       having regard to its previous resolutions on Nigeria, last one on April 29th 2015,

– having regard the plenary debate on the matter on Wednesday, 14 January 2015,

–       having regard to the statements by the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, including the statements of 8 January, 19 January, 31 March, 14 and 15 April 2015,

– having regard to the Council Conclusions of 9 February 2015,

–       having regard to the Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the prevention of the use of the financial system for the purpose of money laundering and terrorist financing(1),

–       having regard to the Resolution of the European Parliament on tax avoidance and tax evasion as challenges for governance, social protection and development in developing countries of July 2015,

–       having regard to the fifth Nigeria-EU ministerial dialogue held in Abuja on 27 November 2014,

–       having regard to the preliminary conclusions of the EU and EP Election Observation Missions,

– having regard to the regional conference on security held in Niamey on 20 January 2015;

–       having regard to the statements made by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon,

–       having regard to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of September 2015,

–       having regard to the statements by the High Commissioner of the United Nations for Human Rights on the possibility that members of Boko Haram could be accused of war crimes,

–       having regard to the UN Declaration of 1981 on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief,

–       having regard to the African Charter on Human Rights and Peoples of 1981, ratified by Nigeria on 22 June 1983,

–       having regard to the International Covenant on Civil Rights of 1966, ratified by Nigeria on 29 October 1993,

–       having regard to the Convention on the Rights of the Child ratified by Nigeria on 16th April 1991,

–       having regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948,

–       having regard to Rule 123(2) of its Rules of Procedure,

–       having regard to Article 208 TFEU, which establishes taking into the principle of policy coherence for development in all European Union external policies,

–       having regard to the Geneva Conventions,

–       having regard to the convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and its Optional Protocol,

–       having regard to the UN Security Council resolution 2122 and 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security,

A.     whereas Nigeria is the most populous, ethnically diverse country in Africa marked by and a North-South division with severe economic and social disparities,

B. whereas Nigeria is the biggest economy in the African continent but despite its vast resources, Nigeria ranks among the most unequal countries in the world; Whereas the majority of the 148 million people in Nigeria live below the poverty line, while the country is the eighth largest oil producer;

C.     whereas there are endemic problems in Nigeria from an economic point of view, due to the monopolization of resources by a minority and major responsibilities of the former colonial powers in the plunder of Nigeria; whereas this situation has led to decades of social and cultural divisions between indigenous groups for control of fertile farmlands and with migrants and settlers from the north of the country; whereas oil revenues have been steadily decreasing and an economic crisis is looming.

D. whereas fair and progressive tax regimes with welfare and social justice criteria provide vital finance to governments to cover citizens’ rights to basic public services, such as healthcare and education for all, and whereas effective redistributive fiscal policies are essential in decreasing the effect of growing inequalities by shaping the redistribution of wealth from higher income citizens to those most in need in a country;

E. whereas illicit financial flows (IFFs), i.e. all unrecorded private financial outflows involving capital that is illegally earned, transferred or utilised, typically originate from tax evasion activities, trade missinvoicing and abusive transfer pricing, against the principle that taxes should be paid where profits have been generated;

F.     whereas social equality, education, literacy, women’s rights, social justice and a fair distribution of state revenues in society, reducing inequality and the fight against corruption are key for good governance and to fighting fundamentalism, violence and intolerance.

G. whereas throughout North East Nigeria and across the border regions in Cameroon, Chad and Niger, children are in critical danger. Insecurity caused by the conflict between the armed group ‘Islamic State’s in West Africa’, commonly known as ‘Boko Haram’, military forces and civilian self-defence groups in North East Nigeria has escalated into a worsening humanitarian crisis, with over 3.500 registered deaths as from January 2015.

H. whereas over 1.4 million children were forced to flee conflict and violence. In the past months, the total number of children on the run has increased by a further 500,000 across the region. In northern Nigeria alone, nearly 1.2 million children – over half of them under 5 years old – have had to leave their homes. An additional 265,000 children have been uprooted in Cameroon, Chad and Niger after their villages were attacked or threatened; whereas these children are at risk of being trapped in a cycle of violence being separated from their families, exposed to exploitation and recruited by armed groups. Many of among them have been killed, maimed and subjected to unimaginable atrocities.

I.     whereas the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate with worsening food insecurity combined with poor access to education, safe drinking water and health services. In the most affected areas health centres have been destroyed. Many health workers have fled while others are not able to access those in need, leaving many families without health services, such as routine immunization, maternal and child care. Children are at risk of dying from diarrhoea, malaria or malnutrition.

J. whereas specifically young women and girls have been abducted by Boko Haram -at least 2,000 since the start of 2014, as reported recently by Amnesty International-, forced into sexual slavery, subjected to forced marriage, physical and psychological abuse, forced labour and rape.

K. whereas since the beginning of 2015 there has been an increase in the frequency and intensity of bombings in Northeast Nigeria. Women and girls are involved in approximately three-quarters of the attacks. Children are often used without knowing, to carry bombs that were strapped to their bodies and detonated remotely in public places, not only in Nigeria but also in neighbouring countries, in Chad and Cameroon.

L.     whereas fear of attacks by Boko Haram has uprooted a half-million children in the past five months -as reported recently by UNICEF- raising a total number of children who have fled from Boko Haram militants in Nigeria and neighbouring countries to 1.4 million as reported by UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund.

M.    whereas the spill over of Boko Haram insurgency in the neighbouring countries reveal the importance of greater regional cooperation; whereas Nigeria plays a key role in regional and African politics and is a driving force of the regional integration through ECOWAS.

N.     whereas gender equality and women´s empowerment reminds a pending issue in Nigeria; further to last electoral processes in Nigeria, fewer women were elected than in the previous ones in 2011, which marked already a negative trend;

1.      Strongly condemns the ongoing and increasing violence in Nigeria which has led to thousands of deaths and injuries and displaced hundreds of thousands of people and specifically hundreds of thousands of children. More than 17000 deaths and 2 million of displaced people over the last six years;

2.   Deplores the massacre of innocent women, men and children, the rapes, the use of torture, the recruitment of child soldiers, and stands with the people of Nigeria in their determination to fight all forms of violence in their country;

3. Insists on the paramount importance of duly protecting children’s rights in a country with over a 40% of the total population between the ages 0 to 14.

4.      Asks the President, Mr. Buhari to ensure respect for human rights for all its citizens; asks the government to protect its population and to address the root causes of violence aiming to ensure equal rights to all citizens and by addressing problems related to inequality, the control of fertile farmland, unemployment and poverty; asks the government to fight against corruption, poverty and inequality and promote social, political and economic reforms in order to create a free, democratic, fair, stable and secure State;

5. Reiterates its concern about the death penalty in Nigeria, further to confirming that in 2014 over 659 death sentences were reported by Amnesty International and urges for the abolition of the death penalty;

6. Calls the Nigerian government to adopt measures to starve Boko Haram of their sources of illegal income, through cooperation with neighbouring countries, in particular with regard to smuggling and trafficking while reminding actions undertaken against Boko Haram should not lead to further fuelling of the violence; in this regard, condemns the Nigerian military for using disproportionate force in its pursuit of Boko Haram; calls for a reform of the Nigerian state security forces, including police, ensuring their proper equipment and effective democratic oversight and conducting investigations against those who are responsible for any human rights violations including extrajudicial killings, torture, rapes, children abuses, arbitrary arrests, and extortion-related abuses;  

7. Calls for an independent investigation to shed light on the different acts perpetrated by Boko Haram, and specify whether war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed;

8.      Points out that increasing impoverishment of citizens, declining economic opportunities, increasing inequalities and limited educational opportunities have swelled the ranks of the unemployed, which in turn offers the socio-economic basis for Boko Haram’s development; notes also with concern that in many regions, the state offers no crucial public services for people such as water, sanitation, health or education; urges, under these circumstances, the Nigerian authorities to address the socio-economic basis for Boko Haram’s development and to fight against deteriorating living standards to reach social justice; asks the EU to use all its tools to promote these measures;

9.      Believes that the peaceful resolution of disputes is only possible through respect for human rights, including the inalienable right of the people to dispose of itself and of its resources;

10.    Emphasises the importance of an independent, impartial, accessible judiciary system for all citizens, to put an end to impunity, to enhance respect for rule of law and fundamental rights of the population; accordingly, calls for improving efficiency and independence of Nigeria’s judiciary system as a mean of effective use of criminal justice to combat terrorism;

11.    Demands an international investigation under the auspices of the UN to determine the third country responsibilities in the organization and financing of terrorist groups in the region, and responsibility of multinationals and governments in the hoarding of wealth and deepening economic, social and cultural tensions;

12.    Urges the international community to do more to help the Nigerian Government, in particular to secure the release of the Chibok girls abducted in April 2014;

13.    Calls on the international community to also help the Nigerian forced migrants in neighbouring countries, calls the EU and it´s Member States to facilitate their access to European asylum and ensure human rights to all migrants;

14.    Calls on the European Union and its Member States to fulfil their commitment to providing a comprehensive range of political, development and humanitarian effective support to Nigeria and its people. Urges that the provision of humanitarian aid by the EU and the Member States should not be subject to restrictions imposed by other stakeholders regarding necessary medical treatment, including access to safe abortion for women and girls who are victims of rape in armed conflicts, and should instead follow international humanitarian law;

15.    Calls for a fair and redistributive tax system able to address the problematic of inequalities in the country, especially regarding natural resources revenues;

16. Urges the Commission to take concrete and effective measures to support tax administration frameworks in the fight against tax dodging, in developing fairer and progressive tax policies, in promoting administrative reforms and in order to increase the share, in terms of aid and development, of financial and technical assistance to the Nigeria national tax administrations;

17. Recalls the European Union and its Member States when negotiating tax treaties, shall comply with the principle of policy coherence for development established in Article 208 TFEU; The European Union shall take account of the objectives of development cooperation in the policies that it implements which are likely to affect developing countries such Nigeria.

18.    Calls on the European Union and its Member States to take concrete measures to efficiently curve illicit financial flows, tax evasion and avoidance, and boost democratic international cooperation in tax matters by promoting an intergovernmental body on tax matters, to ensure a forum where all countries could participate on equal footing;

19.    Reproves the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Law, criminalizing LGTBI people; strongly condemns the severe criminalization of homosexuality in Nigeria, punishable with 7 years’ imprisonment (or death penalty in 12 states where Sharia law applies); Thus, calls for the abolition of this law as well as sections 214 and 217 of the Nigerian Penal Code. Calls the Nigerian Government to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment through boosting women and women rights organisations participation in public and political life; calls for a comprehensive EU approach on violence against women and girls with increased efforts and resources to prevent and eliminate all discriminatory practices against women as well as to combat and prosecute all forms of violence including trafficking in human beings, female genital mutilation, forced sterilisation, forced pregnancy, gendercide, domestic violence and marital rape, child, early and forced marriage and gender-based violence in conflict and post-conflict situations; calls for the development of specific EU actions to strengthen the rights of different groups of women, with a special attention to youth, migrants, women living with HIV, LGBTI persons and persons with disabilities;

20.    Strongly calls for the Nigerian Government to protect the children and youth rights in line with the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda;

21.    Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the governments and parliaments of the Member States, the government and parliament of Nigeria, the Representatives of ECOWAS and the African Union;

(1)

OJ L 309, 25.11.2005, p. 15.

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