Third Committee Concludes Human Rights Debate amid Calls to Raise Living Standards, Foster Peaceful Coexistence among Faiths, Ethnicities

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) concluded its debate on human rights today as Governments described measures to ensure their citizens enjoyed full protection of their fundamental freedoms.

Several speakers focused on efforts to strengthen national laws and institutional frameworks, with the representative of the Philippines pointing out that a Presidential Human Rights Committee had been set up to harmonize institutional efforts. Mechanisms were in place to guarantee that rights violators would be held accountable. Sudan's delegate similarly said it had hired more prosecutors, judges and police to ensure that rights were protected, while Mauritania's delegate recalled that the country had adopted and ratified all the relevant human rights conventions.

Others stressed the importance of peaceful coexistence among racial and religious groups, with Singapore's delegate attributing such success to polices focused on social integration and harmony, maintaining that fragile balance required zero tolerance of actions that denigrated religious or ethnic groups. In Myanmar, whose delegate said had a long history of peaceful coexistence, the Government had formed an Interfaith Friendship Group, with representatives from all faiths in 122 organizations at the national, state, district and township levels.

Cultural rights, however, remained underdeveloped compared to other human rights, said Azerbaijan's delegate, who condemned the destruction of cultural heritage, particularly Armenia's plundering of its territory.

The denial of human rights due to aggression and foreign occupation was another theme throughout the discussion. In that context, Ukraine's delegate stressed that the people of Crimea had been denied their rights during three and a half years of Russian occupation. It was crucial to monitor the occupying Russian forces to ensure their actions complied with international law.

Serbians in Kosovo and Metohija too had faced obstacles, said Serbia's delegate, pointing to limits on exercising rights to security, movement, education, property and religion. It was unclear whether the more than 200,000 internally displaced persons from those areas would ever return home.

Greece's delegate recalled that the rights of Cypriots continued to be violated 43 years after Turkish invasion and illegal occupation. In human terms, the worst consequences of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in the summer of 1974, let alone those who lost their lives, is the tragic humanitarian problem of missing persons and their families, he said. On that point, Cyprus' delegate added that Turkey had a deliberate policy to colonize the island. Turkey's delegate, in turn, said Syria's violent military campaign undermined the rights of its own people. Impunity should end and accountability be restored across Syria together with the political change desired by Syrians.

Still others stressed the importance of protecting rights by raising living standards. China's delegate said his country had charted a course of human rights development with Chinese characteristics, reducing poverty, creating jobs and establishing a nine-year compulsory education system. Honduras' speaker spotlighted efforts to improve living standards so that people did not need to work abroad. If its citizens chose to do so, Honduras also sought to ensure their rights were protected.

The speaker from the Sovereign Military Order of Malta expressed concern over growing disregard for international humanitarian law and targeting of civilians. Mexico's delegate stressed the common responsibility of all states to protect human rights, even during conflict.

Also speaking today were representatives of Kuwait, Malawi, Venezuela, Costa Rica, United Republic of Tanzania, Eritrea, Morocco and Iraq, as well as the Holy See and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 31 October, to begin its discussion of racism and self-determination.

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/4205).

Statements

EL HACEN ELEYATT (Mauritania), associating himself with the African Group, said respect for human rights was the goal of all his country's actions. It had adopted and ratified all the relevant human rights conventions, including that on economic and social rights. Those instruments dealt with combating discrimination against women, he noted, adding that the Government sought to assure women's economic advancement. Under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, a national institution had been established to prohibit such abuse. The 2012 Constitution had made slavery a crime against humanity, and specialized courts dealt with such perpetrators.

MENELAOS MENELAOU (Cyprus), associating himself with the European Union, said basic human rights had been violated during the 1974 invasion by Turkey, and today, 200,000 Greek Cypriots remained internally displaced. Turkey had a deliberate policy to colonize the island. New taxes imposed on humanitarian aid were obstructing the work of peacekeeping forces, while rights to education and freedom were still being violated. On the issue of missing persons, he called on Turkey to provide unrestricted access to all areas and launch an effective investigation into the matter. Turkey's increasingly authoritarian rule was leading to negative developments for Cypriots living under illegal military occupation, he asserted, calling for the establishment of a federal State in line with relevant Security Council resolutions.

STAVROS CHRISTODOULIDIS (Greece), associating himself with the European Union, said his country aimed to support the universality, indivisibility and interdependency of human rights in its domestic and international politics. Greece had worked to implement a coherent human rights policy based on equality, diversity and non-discrimination, he said, noting that it would continue to coordinate with stakeholders to address the causes of the migration crisis, and most importantly, save lives. Emphasizing the importance of freedom of expression, he stressed that the human rights of Cypriots continued to be violated 43 years after the Turkic invasion and illegal occupation of that country. In human terms, the worst consequences of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in the summer of 1974, let alone those who lost their lives, is the tragic humanitarian problem of missing persons and their families, he said, expressing support for efforts to find a just settlement of that problem.

Ms. ALFASSAM (Kuwait) said her country had prioritized human rights in its Constitution, underscoring respect for all men and women. Kuwait sought to protect the economic, social and cultural rights of its people, in line with international instruments, she said, adding that it also supported accords related to children and persons with disabilities. Moreover, Kuwait had participated in international forums and the United Nations human rights machinery. At the national level, Kuwait had adopted several laws to protect human rights, especially rights of the family, and economic and social rights. It sought to protect children, she said, noting that every individual had a right to education and expressing worry over the continued problems of refugees from Myanmar.

BERNARDITO AUZA, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, underscored the responsibility of human rights mandate holders, stressing that rights and dignity were never promoted in isolation. International rights frameworks must meet people's basic needs, which required protecting every human life, from conception until natural death, and an active civil society. Noting that people with disabilities were too often victims of marginalization, he said justice required addressing inequality to ensure that all people were agents of their own development. On migration, the expert report indicated that discourse had neglected to focus on root causes, instead veering towards scapegoating. He urged States not fall into a pattern of declarationist normalism that accomplished nothing.

Name of speaker to come (Sudan) said her country was committed to human rights and acknowledged recommendations made by the Independent Expert on the human rights situation in her country. Sudan had hired more prosecutors, judges and police to ensure that rights were protected. As host to two million refugees, Sudan was committed to extending such assistance to refugees from the region. Welcoming the report by the Special Rapporteur on the right to development, which highlighted the importance of alleviating poverty and establishing global partnerships, she also commended the lifting of sanctions on Sudan and called the universal periodic review the appropriate instrument to monitor human rights situations.

KYAW MOE TUN (Myanmar) said his Government was committed to ensuring greater rights for its citizens, beginning with political and media freedoms. After decades of State-controlled media, Myanmar now had a growing private media sector and had introduced laws granting rights to peaceful assembly. As for religion, Myanmar was a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, with a long history of faiths coexisting in harmony. To promote a culture of peaceful co-existence, the Interfaith Friendship Group had been set up nationwide, with representatives from all faiths in 122 organizations at the national, state, district and township levels. The Government was working in Rakhine State to repatriate and provide humanitarian assistance to returnees; resettle and rehabilitate displaced communities; and establish sustainable peace, stability and development.

YAO SHAOJUN (China) said the United Nations must redouble its efforts to prevent conflict, rebuild peace and combat terrorism. Developing countries' legitimate requests should be accorded due attention, and the rights and interests of vulnerable groups respected, he said, citing an uptick in cases of discrimination and prejudice in recent years. Dialogue and cooperation among countries should be encouraged, with respect for differing social systems. China, for its part, had charted a course of human rights development with Chinese characteristics, he said, by reducing poverty, creating jobs and establishing a nine-year compulsory education system. Democracy and rule of law also continued to make headway, including with human rights protection in the judicial field.

IHOR YAREMENKO (Ukraine) said the people of Crimea had been denied their human rights during three and a half years of Russian occupation. It was crucial to monitor the occupying Russian forces to ensure their actions complied with international law and regulations. He called for the immediate release of Ukrainians imprisoned by the Russian Government, likewise denouncing its abduction of Ukrainian citizens. Calling the human rights situation in the Russian Federation dire, he said that country had become more repressive amid civil society crack downs and the branding of people with dissenting views as those working for the West. He called for international political and diplomatic pressure to be brought to bear on the Russian Federation so that it ceased its totalitarian practices.

MARINA IVANOVIC (Serbia) described challenges in protecting the rights of Serbians in the province of Kosovo, and specifically, Metohija. That community faced obstacles to enjoying their rights to security, freedom of movement and education, including the use of language and script, as well as in exercising their rights to property, culture and freedom of religion. It was unclear whether the more than 200,000 internally displaced persons from Kosovo and Metohija would ever return home, she said, noting that Serbia, through the European Union-facilitated dialogue with Pristina, sought to ensure that all ethnic communities in those areas could lead normal lives. She also expressed concern about frequent attacks and stigmatization of Serbian citizens in neighbouring countries.

NECTON D. MHURA (Malawi) said his country implemented its international human rights treaty commitments by adopting national laws and policies. Committed to the universal periodical review and the African Union State Parties mechanism to monitor human rights progress, he said the Government had passed an access to information act in February 2017 and established a task force to oversee its implementation. Malawi also had taken efforts to provide assistance to persons affected by hunger, as well as actions to combat and mitigate the effects of climate change. Similarly, Malawi promoted the security of land tenure, equitable land access and access to decent, affordable housing, he said, citing its fair housing subsidy programme, under which it had built and improved houses, benefitting 18,000 Malawians.

ROBERT ALEXANDER POVEDA BRITO (Venezuela), associating himself with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Community (CELAC), said his country had a broad plan for human rights, and noted that Venezuela had been elected twice to the Human Rights Council. Social investment was a priority, and the Gini index was positive, showing stability as well as progress. The commitment between the people and the Government was the essence of participatory democracy. On political rights, he said Venezuela had ensured real progress in decision-making, with 22 elections in the last 18 years, demonstrating its ability to express its wishes, which had been internationally recognized. Unilateral coercive measures and attacks on Venezuela's economy were a bad example for a society which at the international level was seeking harmony and respect. Human rights should be tackled on the basis of non-politicization.

Ms. LEON (Costa Rica) associated herself with the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean ECLAC, the Group of Friends of Older Persons, and with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Persons (LGBTI) Core Group, underscoring the need for a human rights approach to implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. A backward movement in implementing human rights was disturbing, she observed, pointing to disrespect for international law during conflict and in addressing the situation of migrants. Calling for international human rights mechanisms to be strengthened, she said human rights institutions could play a role in such efforts, when they were independent and had the necessary tools. The international community should not confine itself to the lowest common denominator, but rather, set aside short-term political considerations.

LILIAN ABDUL MUKASA (United Republic of Tanzania) described initiatives addressing the human rights of persons with albinism, which aimed to ensure their access to education, health, employment and full participation in society. The Government promoted inclusive education for children with disabilities, including those with albinism, by providing large font examination papers for visually impaired people. Noting that skin cancer was the number one killer of persons with albinism in most equatorial African countries, she said the epidemic was preventable, yet access to health services was limited. The country was establishing centres to bring medical services close to those in need. Also, more must be done to end the harm, torture, and killing of persons with albinism, she said, underscoring States' international legal obligations in that regard.

MARK CHANG (Singapore) said the social and economic development of Singaporeans was essential for realizing their human rights, adding that such protections must account for domestic context. He attributed the peaceful coexistence of multi-religious, multi-ethnic communities in Singapore to policy focused on social integration and maintenance of racial and religious harmony. Maintaining that fragile balance required zero tolerance of actions that denigrate religious or ethnic groups, he said, adding that Governments must be accountable to their people and exercise good governance. No country or grouping could impose its views of human rights on other countries, he said, calling for mutual engagement in an atmosphere of respect.

NEBIL SAID IDRIS (Eritrea) said some States used human rights as tools for coercion, adding that Eritrea faced a country-specific mandate aiming to isolate it and undermine both development efforts and international cooperation. The countries responsible for the mandate had some of the worst human rights records in the world, he said, noting mass killings and excessive use of force. Every country faced human rights issues, he said, adding that the international community should not allow rights instruments to be drawn into conflict that made a mockery of their work. He vowed to promote the quality of life of his country's citizens.

HABIB MIKAYILLI (Azerbaijan) noted that cultural rights remained underdeveloped when compared to other human rights. He condemned all destruction of cultural heritage, stressing that such actions could impair the enjoyment of cultural rights. He welcomed the report by the Special Rapporteur in the field of Cultural Rights, agreeing that it was impossible to separate cultural heritage from rights. The issue was of particular interest, given the plundering of Azerbaijan's cultural heritage by Armenia. Human rights issues related to the African American population and rights defenders in the United States was also a major concern, he stressed, calling for the creation of an environment of protection for those groups.

Ms. OZCERI (Turkey) expressed concern about the emergence of extremist political currents and ideologies across Europe, which had led to xenophobic nationalism and Islamophobia. Syria's violent military campaign continued to undermine the fundamental rights of the Syrian people, she said, stressing: Impunity should end and accountability be restored across Syria together with the political change desired by Syrians. Advocating efforts to achieve a long-term solution to rights violations faced by Rohingya Muslims, she went on to attach utmost importance to Turkey's vibrant and pluralistic civil society and highlighted that freedom of expression, assembly and association were safeguarded in Turkey's Constitution. Government measures put in place following an attempted coup by the Fetullahist terror organization were in line with its international obligations.

MAJDA MOUTCHOU (Morocco), noting that human rights were protected in the Constitution, said the country's laws also protected the freedom of movement, literary and artistic rights, as well as political freedom. Under the Constitution, men and women had equal rights. The Government had set up a centre to achieve gender equality, which also managed a gender approach to climate change policies. Describing Morocco's integrated strategy for youths and children, she said a new policy on immigration and refugees also had been rolled out. Morocco ensured that national civil and political rights legislation was in line with international conventions.

MOHAMED ALI ALHAKIM (Iraq) said the human rights system aimed at protecting the dignity of human beings. He called for eradicating discrimination, as it was the only way to guarantee human dignity. Societies that worked to eliminate discrimination would also work to eliminate poverty, he noted. Turning to regional issues, he said terrorist activities not only killed or destroyed, they also violated all human rights. Iraq had put forth plans to combat national divisions and create a strong, unified State to combat terror. People in the region faced common dangers, he stressed, calling for closer cooperation to optimize rights protections, as peace and prosperity would be unattainable if injustice persisted.

JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico) said his country would take its seat in the Human Rights Council in a serious, committed manner. He stressed the link between the 2030 Agenda and human rights, noting the international community appeared, on paper, to be committed to leaving nobody behind. He asked why human rights had not been included in United Nations reform talks, affirming Mexico's commitment to including that matter on the agenda. Sustainable development would be meaningless without full enjoyment of human rights, he stressed. All States had a common responsibility to protect the rights of all people, he said, calling for such protections even during conflict. He rejected the false dilemma existing between those who wished to build walls based on discrimination, and those wishing to build bridges based on respect for human rights.

MARY ELIZABETH FLORES (Honduras), associating herself with CELAC, said her country was doing its utmost to improve living standards so people did not need to work abroad. If they so chose, Honduras sought to ensure their rights were protected. A consular centre had been set up in Houston, and a consular registration service introduced, allowing Hondurans to use identity documents accepted in the United States. Domestically, the Government had taken steps to help Hondurans returning from overseas to reintegrate into their communities. Citing a considerable drop in migrants from Honduras in 2016 and 2017, she said the Government was committed to addressing the structural problems which led to migration. Migration is a fundamental right, she said. It is not a question of stopping migration but we have to address its root causes.

TEODORO LOPEZ LOCSIN, JR. (Philippines) said his country was committed to promoting, protecting and advancing its citizens' rights, especially for the poor, marginalized and vulnerable. To ensure institutional mechanisms were harmonized, the Presidential Human Rights Committee coordinated all relevant policies. For alleged violations, institutions and mechanisms were in place to guarantee that perpetrators were held accountable. The State also investigated all such credible allegations and would continue to do so in the spirit of its national traditions of liberty and democracy. In May 2017, the Philippines had submitted to its third universal periodic review in Geneva, reflecting its transparency and desire to address human rights concerns.

ROBERT L. SHAFER, Sovereign Military Order of Malta, said increasing violations of international humanitarian law and the targeting of civilians in armed conflict had been of utmost importance to the Order of Malta. The organization's mission was to provide help to the sick, needy and the most disadvantaged in society. Due to its sovereignty and neutrality, it had been able to intervene in difficult humanitarian stations. The Order's worldwide humanitarian relief service, Malteser International, provided a range of medical and social programs in response to armed conflict and natural catastrophe.

MARIANA KOVACS, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, noting that the number of chronically undernourished people had increased by 38 million from 2015 to 2016. Food aid policies should follow a human rights-based approach by taking into account the needs of vulnerable groups, as well as the need to avoid the disruption of local capacity, food safety, dietary needs and culture of recipient populations. For its part, FAO had provided assistance to Guatemala, El Salvador and Sierra Leone, as well as in Nepal, she said, and was working with the European Union in supporting 33 countries to address causes of hunger and malnutrition. Noting that FAO was helping Colombia to address rural development, she said it was only through working in partnership that the international community could drive down the growing number of hungry around the world.

Right of Reply

The representative of Turkey, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said Greece's delegate had presented a one-sided portrayal of history, adding that Turkish Cypriots faced human rights violations, with many being displaced. Turkish Cypriots had shown a commitment to negotiations to resolve the issue, while United Nations mechanisms were being manipulated by Greek Cypriots to incorrectly portray the situation.

The representative of Cyprus said issues in her country had resulted from Turkey's illegal occupation, calling on that country to align itself with relevant United Nations resolutions.

The representative of the Russian Federation expressed sadness that the Third Committee was being used by Ukraine's delegate to address issues unrelated to its agenda. She said the people of Crimea had joined the Russian Federation through a process of self-determination, in line with relevant conventions.

The representative of Bahrain said the freedom of association was in its Constitution with no limits imposed on the practice. Her country ensured the civil and political rights of its citizens, which in turn fostered positive contributions to State activities.

The representative of Ukraine said it was a shame that the Russian Federation continued to promote a parallel reality related to human rights violations in Crimea and in the Russian Federation itself. Issues in Crimea were fully in line with the Committee's agenda, as the people of Crimea were Ukrainians living in a temporarily occupied territory.

Source: United Nations