Third Committee Approves Texts Relating to Torture, Minorities, Elections, Social Inclusion, Rights Centres in Africa, South-West Asia, Arab Region
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today rejected one text and sent another six draft resolutions to the General Assembly, among them a draft that would have the world body urge States not to return a person to another State if he or she faced risks of being subjected to torture and to ensure that border control operations and reception centres fully complied with human rights.
Acting without a vote, the Committee approved that draft resolution, titled “Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”, which would have the General Assembly urge States to ensure that appropriate rehabilitation services were promptly available to all victims and appeal to all States and organizations to contribute annually to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.
After the draft text’s approval, delegates shared perspectives on aspects pertaining to the death penalty. Some speakers made specific comments regarding a preambular paragraph that mentioned “that States must protect the rights of those facing criminal sentences, including the death penalty and life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and of other affected persons in accordance with their international obligations”.
While the representative of Liechtenstein expressed disappointment that the text did not further address the links between the prohibition of torture and the question of the death penalty, Qatar’s delegate (on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council) regretted the reference to capital punishment and stressed the sovereign right of each State to decide on their own justice system.
The Committee also approved, by a recorded vote of 155 in favour, 0 against and 15 abstentions, a draft resolution on strengthening the role of the United Nations in enhancing periodic and genuine elections and the promotion of democratization. That draft text would have the General Assembly call upon all States to ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others, directly or through freely chosen representatives, including the right and opportunity for persons with disabilities to vote and to be elected.
Requesting a vote on that draft resolution was the representative of the Russian Federation, explaining that his delegation could not support the inclusion in the text of a reference in operative paragraph 12 to the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and the Code of Conduct for International Election Observers, as those documents had been created by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and had not been the outcome of an intergovernmental negotiating process. He then introduced a draft resolution containing an amendment that would have deleted the following words in that operative paragraph “and in this regard expresses appreciation for the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and the Code of Conduct for International Election Observers, which elaborate guidelines for international electoral observation”.
Taking action, the Committee rejected, by a recorded vote of 24 in favour to 101 against, with 34 abstentions, the draft text containing the amendment.
By a recorded vote of 169 in favour, 1 against and 2 abstentions, the Committee approved a draft resolution on the United Nations Human Rights Training and Documentation Centre for South-West Asia and the Arab Region.
Acting without a vote, it approved texts pertaining to the United Nations African Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, to promoting social integration through social inclusion and to the effective promotion of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.
The Committee also heard Cuba’s delegate introduce the following nine draft resolutions on: the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination; promotion of a democratic and equitable international order; strengthening United Nations action in the field of human rights through the promotion of international cooperation and the importance of non-selectivity, impartiality and objectivity; human rights and unilateral coercive measures; promotion of equitable geographical distribution in the membership of the human rights treaty bodies; enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights; the right to food; the right to development; and human rights and cultural diversity.
Speaking today were representatives of Peru, Denmark, Singapore, Sudan, Colombia, United States, Luxembourg (for the European Union), Australia (also on behalf of Canada, Iceland, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland), Israel, Syria, Kuwait and Sierra Leone.
The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 18 November, to continue taking action on draft resolutions.
Introduction of Draft Resolutions
Considering the Committee’s agenda item relating to the right of peoples to self-determination, the representative of Cuba introduced a draft resolution on the “Use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination” (document A/C.3/70/L.58).
Turning to the agenda item on human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, Cuba’s delegate tabled the following eight draft texts: “Promotion of a democratic and equitable international order” (document A/C.3/70/L.30); “Strengthening United Nations action in the field of human rights through the promotion of international cooperation and the importance of non-selectivity, impartiality and objectivity” (document A/C.3/70/L.31); “Human rights and unilateral coercive measures” (document A/C.3/70/L.32); “Promotion of equitable geographical distribution in the membership of the human rights treaty bodies” (document A/C.3/70/L.33); “Enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights” (document A/C.3/70/L.34); “The right to food” (document A/C.3/70/L.36); “The right to development” (document A/C.3/70/L.37); and “Human rights and cultural diversity” (document A/C.3/70/L.38).
Action on Draft Resolutions
Under the agenda item relating to social development, the Committee took up a draft resolution on “Promoting social integration through social inclusion” (document A/C.3/70/L.9/Rev.1).
The representative of Peru, making a statement, said that the draft text aimed at ensuring the social integration of all people, including the most vulnerable. It also emphasized the importance of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The Committee approved that text without a vote.
The Committee then took up a text on the “Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (document A/C.3/70/L.27/Rev.1).
Denmark’s delegate said the draft text was the result of several open-ended consultations with interested delegations and of bilateral meetings. The draft before the Committee had undergone an extensive restructuring exercise since its biennialization in 2013 in order to make it more useful for practitioners and institutions promoting the fight against torture. The freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment was a non-derogable right that must be protected under all circumstances, he stressed. The draft text, in that regard, recalled that the prohibition of torture was a peremptory norm that was not territorially limited.
The text was then approved without a vote.
After the approval of that text, several delegations delivered statements. The representative of Qatar, speaking on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, said that the preambular paragraph referring to the death penalty had emphasized that every State had the inalienable right to choose its own legal system without interference of any form, in accordance with the principle of sovereignty, as enshrined in the United Nations Charter.
The speaker from the Russian Federation said he did not fully share concerns contained in the resolution. He underlined the need to ensure the protection of torture victims in the framework of the Convention. Turning to the reference made to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (“Mandela Rules”), he underlined the importance of human rights mechanisms to operate with full respect for their mandate.
Liechtenstein’s delegate regretted to say that the links between the prohibition of torture and the question of the death penalty had not been further explored in the resolution. He said the imposition of the death penalty was incompatible with the prohibition of torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment. The Human Rights Council and the General Assembly should address the links between those two human rights issues. All States had to protect the rights of those facing the death penalty, including the prohibition of torture. Despite the lack of an international consensus with regard to the question of the death penalty, he noted that there was a global trend towards its abolition.
The representative of Singapore reiterated her country’s commitment to combat torture and protect the rights of all persons, including detainees. There was, however, no need to single out any particular criminal sentence, she said.
Sudan’s delegate voiced his reservation on the reference to the death penalty in a preambular paragraph of the resolution, and dissociated himself from the references made to the International Criminal Court.
The Committee then turned to the draft resolution on the “Effective promotion of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities” (document A/C.3/70/L.52/Rev.1).
Again, without a vote, the text was approved.
Speaking after its approval, the speaker of Colombia said the inclusion of paragraph 4 into “L.52/Rev.1” could not be accepted by his delegation as it went beyond the scope of the text. That paragraph would have the General Assembly call upon States, with a view to enhancing the implementation of the Declaration and to ensuring the realization of the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, to take appropriate measures by, among other things, reviewing any legislation, policy or practice that has a discriminatory or disproportionately negative effect on persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities with a view to considering its amendment. To that end, Colombia had refrained from cosponsoring the draft text.
Under the same agenda item, the Committee also took up the text on “Strengthening the role of the United Nations in enhancing periodic and genuine elections and the promotion of democratization” (document A/C.3/70/L.54), introduced by the representative of the United States. She said democracy, development and respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms were interdependent and mutually reinforcing. The draft text would have the Assembly reaffirm that Member States were responsible for organizing, conducting and ensuring transparent, free and fair electoral processes. It also recognized the importance of fair, periodic and genuine elections in order to empower citizens to express their will and to promote successful transition to long-term sustainable democracies.
The delegate from the Russian Federation then tabled an amendment to “L.54”, as contained in a draft resolution on “Strengthening the role of the United Nations in enhancing periodic and genuine elections and the promotion of democratization” (document A/C.3/70/L.64). The Russian Federation had been compelled to present that amendment, excluding the mention of references to the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and the Code of Conduct for International Election Observers. The Declaration had been developed by civil society and not by States. The Russian Federation could not support an attempt to legitimize such a document that had been developed by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Adopting the amendment (“L.64”) would make the “L.54” draft resolution more balanced, he said. In case the main sponsors would reject “L.64”, he said he would call for a vote, asking for all delegations to support the draft amendment.
Making a general statement in relation to the amendment, the representative of the United States said that she would vote against the draft amendment presented by the Russian Federation’s speaker, which sought to delete text that had been agreed upon for almost a decade. She urged all delegations to vote against that amendment, as they had already done during the past years.
The Committee then took action on “L.64”, rejecting it by a recorded vote of 24 in favour to 101 against, with 34 abstentions.
The Russian Federation’s delegate then requested a recorded vote on “L.54” as a whole.
Making a general statement, the speaker from the United States was deeply disappointed that a vote had been called for “L.54”, which had been adopted by consensus for years.
The delegate from Luxembourg, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that he fully supported “L.54”, which contained references to the need for inclusion of persons with disabilities in all stages of the electoral process.
The speaker of Australia, speaking also on behalf of Canada, Iceland, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland, was deeply concerned that “L.54” had been put to a vote for the first time in the history of the Third Committee, particularly with regard to the important reference to the inclusion of persons with disabilities and to the role of civil society.
Israel’s representative expressed his support for democracy and human rights, saying that the draft resolution was a key element for supporting countries’ efforts for consolidating their democratic institutions. He called on all Member States to vote in favour of the draft.
The delegate from the Russian Federation said that international observation of elections had to represent a transparent and objective process. The Third Committee should not be used to put pressure on States. The Russian Federation could not agree with the inclusion of references to documents that had not been the outcome of an intergovernmental process. He was therefore compelled to call for a vote and would abstain.
The Committee then approved that text by a recorded vote of 155 in favour to none against, with 15 abstentions.
Making a general statement after the vote, the representative of Singapore said her country recognized fair periodic elections and the effective participation of all citizens.
Sudan’s delegate said his delegation wanted to abstain from voting instead of voting in favour of the text.
Moving to its next action, the representative of Qatar introduced a draft text on the “United Nations Human Rights Training and Documentation Centre for South-West Asia and the Arab Region” (document A/C.3/70/L.57).
Before the vote, several delegates explained their positions. The representative of Syria said the Organization’s funds needed to be spent more efficiently. He regretted to say that the Centre in Doha was not a regional centre, but rather a place used by the Government of Qatar for its benefit. The delegation then requested a vote on the draft text.
Qatar’s delegate, making a general comment, regretted to say that the Syrian delegate had tried to politicize that issue and had decided to put the draft resolution to a vote. She recalled the important activities carried out by the Centre and reiterated the importance that it was allocated appropriate funding from the regular budget of the United Nations.
The speaker from the United States also regretted to say that once again the Syrian delegate had called for a vote on the draft resolution. She expressed support for the work of the Centre and called on all delegations to vote in favour of the text.
The Committee approved that text by a recorded vote of 169 in favour to 1 against (Syria), with 2 abstentions (Angola and Democratic Republic of Congo).
Speaking in an explanation of vote after the vote, the representative of Kuwait welcomed the adoption of the text and expressed her strong support to the work of the Centre. She noted that the institution provided important services to the region and regretted attempts by some delegations to impose politicized views on the issue.
Finally, the Committee took up a draft resolution on the “United Nations African Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders” (document A/C.3/70/L.16/Rev.1).
Sierra Leone’s delegate, presenting the draft text, said it had sought to update the previous resolution 69/198 as outlined in the Secretary General’s report (document A/70/121). The report had focused on crime prevention and criminal justice as a factor in the promotion of the rule of law and discussed how crime undermined efforts for the maintenance of peace and security. In addition, the report discussed how funding difficulties continued to undermine the Institute’s capacity to service the region’s crime prevention needs.
The Committee then approved the draft text without a vote.