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Seventy-first Session,
23rd & 24th Meetings (AM & PM)

States Duty-Bound to Protect against Human Rights Abuses within Their Territories, Third Committee Hears during Interactive Discussions with Experts

The negative effects of sanctions, violations of workers’ rights and obstacles to the right to development were among the wide‑ranging concerns before the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), today as delegates engaged in interactive discussions with independent Human Rights Council experts on ways to improve respect across a range of business and Government practices.

Throughout the day, delegates questioned special rapporteurs, independent experts and chairs of working groups about violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, perpetrated mainly by companies and Governments, and sometimes in the name of development.  Many speakers questioned the legitimacy of unilateral coercive measures, describing their detrimental effects on both livelihoods and development in targeted States.

In that context, Idriss Jazairy, Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, recommended setting up a central register of all unilateral coercive measures currently in force.  States should enhance mechanisms that allowed victims to obtain redress, with a view to establishing a “Compensation Commission”, set up by the Security Council or by means of a convention.

Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, said workers’ rights were under serious threat in many countries.  The numerous cases of harassment, intimidation, violence and arbitrary arrests testified to the global weakening of workers’ right to peaceful assembly and association.  “This world today is valuing profit way more than it is human beings,” he said.

Zamir Akram, Chair‑Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Right to Development reinforced the centrality of the right to development —— a point echoed in the interactive dialogue —— stressing that enhanced cooperation and partnerships were needed to reach internationally agreed goals.  Today’s discussions, he said in response to queries, reflected the divergent perspectives on the essence of the Declaration on the Right to Development and efforts by the Working Group.

Alfred‑Maurice de Zayas, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, said an equitable global system required drastic changes to the economic and financial regime, as an estimated $32 trillion were being held secretly offshore, often by phony entities set up by banks and others to avoid tax.  He recommended the adoption of a binding treaty that obliged companies to pay taxes in the location where the profits had been generated. 

In similar vein, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States, recommended wealth redistribution, regulation of financial markets, a set of minimum wages and progressive taxation.

Pavel Sulayandziga, Chairperson of the United Nations Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, said States had the primary duty of providing protection against human rights abuses perpetrated by businesses within their territory or under their jurisdiction.

Also making presentations today were Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary‑General for Human Rights and Head of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in New York, and Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, who presented the relevant reports of the Secretary‑General.

The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 21 October, to continue its discussions on the promotion and protection of human rights.


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to continue its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights.  For background, see Press Release GA/SHC/4172.

Introductory Statements and Interactive Dialogues

ANDREW GILMOUR, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and Head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in New York, presented 10 reports in a shortened presentation.  

Turning first to the report on the moratorium on the use of the death penalty (document A/71/332), he said some progress had been made in that a number of States had abolished the death penalty.  However, others had increased the number of executions.  International efforts on the moratorium were considered useful in that regard.  The report on Human Rights in the administration of justice (document A/71/405), outlined actions taken at the national level, including improved legal aid and new legislation.  Obstacles included restrictions to access legal aid.

The Secretary‑General’s report on missing persons (document A/71/299) looked at missing persons in conflict situations and after disasters, he said, describing efforts in registration, investigations and tracing.  The number of missing persons was alarming and the impact of that situation had been devastating.  The issue must be de-politicized and accountability must be ensured.

Mr. Gilmour went on to say that the report on combatting intolerance, negative stereotyping, stigmatization, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons, based on religion or belief (document A/71/369), summarized measures taken in that regard, including assistance to persons illegally detained and new legislation.  It noted that religious leaders had an important role to play in those efforts.  The report on Globalization and its impact on the full enjoyment of all human rights (document A/71/271) emphasized that multinational corporate profits must benefit all.

On the role of the Ombudsman and other national institutions (document A/71/273), he said the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had provided assistance to 26 Ombudsmen offices.  In the two reports on migration before the Committee (documents A/71/279A/72/285), he said the protection of human rights had been prioritized in those efforts, noting that the Human Rights Council had requested that the second report be transmitted to the General Assembly to consider the vulnerability of migrants further.

Concerning the right to development (document A/71/319), he reiterated that it had an imminent impact on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  On the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (document A/71/439), the Secretary‑General encouraged the Government to respect all human rights, welcoming in particular the cooperation on children’s rights and women’s rights.  Yet despite some progress and work by the Commission of Inquiry, the report outlined grave concerns about the overall human rights situation in that country.

In the ensuing dialogue, Morocco’s representative expressed his disappointment that the Secretary‑General had issued Note A/71/273 on “The Role of the Ombudsman, mediator and other national human rights institutions in the promotion and protection of human rights”, as opposed to a full‑fledged report.  The Note created ambiguity between the Ombudsman and national institutions, he said.  The European Union’s representative wanted to know about the Assistant Secretary‑General’s plans to develop the Human Rights Up Front initiative, and asked if he could share lessons learned from his field experience, while Azerbaijan’s delegate commented that the report should focus on missing persons in armed conflict. 

Mr. GILMOUR replied that he would relay the concern expressed by Morocco’s delegate to his Office in Geneva, noting that he had been unaware of the issue.  Speaking about his field experience, he recalled that he was a veteran of eight field missions and his Office would prioritize working with the human rights components of field missions.  He had also been involved in spearheading the Human Rights Up Front initiative.  Recently, he had observed greater collaboration among United Nations divisions in developing common positions on human rights issues, which was a positive development.

DANIELA BAS, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development of the Department for Economic and Social Affairs, presented the Secretary-General’s report on the full realization of an inclusive and accessible United Nations for persons with disabilities (document A/71/344).  Calling it an intradepartmental report, she said it provided an overview of access for persons with disabilities and outlined recommendations based on best practices.  It covered physical facilities, conference services and documentation, she added.

On the Effects of Foreign Debt and Other Related International Financial Obligations on the Full Enjoyment of All Human Rights

JUAN PABLO BOHOSLAVSKY, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic social and cultural rights, introduced his annual report (document A/71/305).  He said it recounted his first presentation to the Human Rights Council that recommended that, in order to ensure a level of wealth redistribution that could prevent financial crises and guarantee individuals an equal opportunity to fully exercise their rights, States should regulate financial markets, set adequate minimum wages, tax progressively, provide minimum social protection floors and conduct human rights assessments before designing and implementing structural adjustment programmes.  His second Council presentation had proposed measures States could take to address damage done by illicit financial flows. 

Recounting visits he had conducted during the year, he said that after visiting China, he had made a range of recommendations for improving the human rights impact of foreign development projects supported by Chinese financial institutions, including greater transparency and establishment of complaint mechanisms.  Following his visit to Greece, he had appealed for debt relief as a way to trigger socially inclusive growth and stem extreme poverty.  Finally, on his visit to several institutions of the European Union in Brussels, he had voiced concern that recent austerity policies had undermined economic, social and labour rights.  Macroeconomic policies, he commented, should explicitly use human rights standards as benchmarks against which to assess economic reforms.  Turning to what he called the key messages of his annual report, he stressed the critical need for debt relief that incorporated human rights, environmental and social considerations in order to realize the Sustainable Development Goals.  States must recall their role as the collective stewards of global welfare and integrate human rights into their economic policies, he said.

In the ensuing dialogue, Morocco’s representative asked the Independent Expert for details on the proposed communication mechanism on debt restructuring.  Iran’s representative expressed concern about the unclear lines between the responsibilities of host countries and business investors in protecting human rights, noting that countries needing foreign investment were agreeing to unfair and unsustainable long‑term arrangements with businesses.

Mr. BOHOSLAVSKY responded to Morocco’s delegate by suggesting that the General Assembly consider a registry for debt restructuring and reporting.  He shared the concern expressed by Iran’s delegate about the limited role human rights had played in bilateral investment treaties.  He was working on a report on whether bilateral investment treaties should be used to solve debt disputes.

On the Negative Impact of Unilateral Coercive Measures on the Enjoyment of Human Rights

IDRISS JAZAIRY, Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, said his report to the General Assembly (document A/71/287) focused on remedies and redress for victims of unilateral coercive measures.  It supplemented the report submitted to the Human Rights Council, he said, noting that some Council members had supported his proposal to establish a compensation commission through which individuals and entities could bring direct claims against targeting States or international organizations. 

He then reviewed four concluding recommendations, the first of which was that the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly should consider restating through a Declaration the applicability of the rule of law in all its dimensions and implications to the field of unilateral coercive measures, as doing so would fill an unacceptable gap in human rights protection.  His second recommendation was to set up a consolidated central register, either at the level of the Security Council or the United Nations Secretariat, to recapitulate the list of all unilateral coercive measures in force.  His third recommendation was for the international community to take steps to enhance mechanisms allowing victims to obtain redress, and in view of a future possible mechanism, he suggested it could take the form of a “Compensation Commission” set up either by the United Nations Security Council or by means of a multilateral convention.  Finally, another major step in terms of transparency and accountability would be a decision to include in the Universal Periodic Review of each source State an item on the unilateral coercive measures they applied to targeted countries, with an assessment of their human rights impact.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegates asked the Special Rapporteur about what could be to done to assess and address the negative effects of unilateral and coercive measures.  Other questions focused on international compensation mechanisms that could be set up and about the effects of such measures on the right to development and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Mr. JAZAIRY responded that he would have welcomed the participation from the Western European and other States Group in that context.  On the impact of a Declaration, he noted that such a Declaration should bring the relevant provisions of human rights and humanitarian laws together.  He was working on common language for consideration.  On the situation in Sudan, he said the impact of such measures was a matter of judgment:  some said they had improved the human rights situation, while others said they had adversely affected it.

On the legitimacy of unilateral, coercive measures, he said that no such measures complied with international law, and therefore, must be rejected.  He suggested that Member States work together to achieve consensus on their use. Regarding recourse and remedy, he said the European Union Tribunal had provided some recognition and recourse.  On Palestine, he said one main principle was that people should not have to suffer from mistakes made by their Governments.  A register of unilateral, coercive measures would simply be a compilation of those actions; it would not be compulsory.  It would have budgetary implications.  More broadly, he said rhetoric did not solve differences.  Vital drugs and food must not be affected by unilateral coercive measures, he added.

Participating in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Cuba, Sudan, Algeria, Venezuela (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Russian Federation, Morocco, Iran and Israel, as well as the State of Palestine.

On the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association

MAINA KIAI, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, presenting his final report (document A/71/385), said those rights in the workplace continued to be undermined for many workers, including women, migrants, racial, ethnic, religious and sexual minorities, and rural workers.  Globalization had dramatically increased inequality and the power of multinational corporations.  A range of global and regional human rights instruments protected assembly rights without discrimination for workers, and States were tasked with ensuring workers could exercise those rights.  Yet impermissible restrictions on workers’ ability to form or join independent trade unions persisted in many countries. 

He said the numerous cases of harassment, intimidation, violence and arbitrary arrests testified to the global weakening of workers’ right to peaceful assembly and association.  Emphasizing States’ responsibility to take measures to ensure those rights, he said effective remedies should be available from a range of mechanisms, including judicial, non‑judicial and administrative institutions such as courts, ombudspersons and national human rights institutions.  The global attack on labour rights had made it disturbingly clear that the old ways of defending workers’ rights must be adapted.  To that end, he had made recommendations to States, business entities, civil society and international organizations, which he said should be implemented.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, the Special Rapporteur fielded questions on civil society’s role in promoting workers’ rights, and in particular, how that role could be strengthened.  Norway’s delegate wondered how to enhance the relationship between the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Human Rights Council to promote the integration of labour rights into human rights, while the delegate of Czech Republic asked how States could work with businesses in furthering workers’ rights to free assembly and association.

Mr. KIAI, on advancing workers’ rights, replied that it was important to look more at the situation of informal workers —— namely, women, migrants and domestic workers.  The more organized that workers were, the more power they had.  Domestic workers, particularly those in foreign countries, were completely at the mercy of their employers.

To questions about how to work with business, he said it was important for States to engage with players beyond the business sector to solve the challenges confronting workers’ rights.  States must do much more to engage with civil society and labour unions.  Often, Heads of State consulted regularly with businesses.  “How often do they consult with civil society” he asked?  In particular, States must bring human rights groups and labour unions into negotiations on trade treaties, which had been dominated by Government and business.  “This world today is valuing profit way more than it is human beings,” he said.

Recalling the restriction that some States had placed on foreign funding to civil society, he urged Governments to stop fearing foreign funding, and pointed out a fundamental contradiction behind such policies:  “All countries here are foreign funded,” he said, whether it was through loans or debt.  He asked why, then, they insisted that civil society could not be, adding that every major company was also foreign‑funded.

To Switzerland’s query about national action plans, he stressed the need to push binding, legal frameworks to further workers’ rights.

Finally, addressing a question about the relationship between ILO and the Human Rights Council, he said an objective of his report —— which was the first of its kind to look at workers’ rights from within the Human Rights Council —— was to link the work of the two organizations together.  “The biggest losers in globalization have been workers and human rights people,” he said, stressing that it was time they come together to move forward.

Also participating in the dialogue were representatives of United States, United Kingdom, Colombia, Iran, Indonesia, Norway, Ethiopia and Qatar, as well as the European Union.

On the Right to Development

ZAMIR AKRAM, Chair‑Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Right to Development, noting that the Working Group had held an interactive dialogue on the 2030 Agenda at its seventeenth session, said there was an intrinsic link between the right to development and the new Agenda.  To remain relevant, the Working Group must engage with the global development agenda and its follow‑up mechanisms.  The Working Group continued to refine the draft right to development criteria and corresponding operational sub‑criteria, though positions remained “wide apart” on the bulk of that text, he said.  It also had considered a report he had prepared to break the deadlock by identifying common ground and using agreed language.

Highlighting the Human Rights Council’s decision to appoint, for three years, a Special Rapporteur on the right to development, he said that individual’s mandate would be to contribute to the promotion, protection and fulfilment of the right to development in the context of the 2030 Agenda and other internationally agreed outcomes in 2015; engage and support efforts to mainstream the right to development among various United Nations bodies; contribute to the work of the Working Group; and submit any specific study requested by the Human Rights Council.

In the ensuing dialogue, many delegates reaffirmed the importance of the right to development and expressed concern about its lacklustre implementation.  Venezuela’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, stressed that the right to development called for profound change in the international economic structure.  The representative of South Africa said that, while she believed in the need to mainstream human rights into development efforts, she was concerned that the Working Group’s mandate obstructed development.  The European Union’s delegate said although he was committed to a rights‑based approach to development, he did not support a legally binding instrument to realize that right.

Mr. AKRAM observed that today’s discussions reflected the divergent perspectives on the essence of the Declaration on the Right to Development and efforts by the Working Group.  A lack of political will and cooperation among Member States were largely to blame for lack of implementation.  Some of those differences were ideological; for instance, there was disagreement over whether the right to development was an individual or a collective right.  Other obstacles were discrimination, inequalities and conflict. 

He did not believe there would be solutions to those challenges soon; however, he underscored the need to set ideological differences aside to deal with urgent problems, like extreme poverty, hunger, access to drinking water, housing, education, gender empowerment and equality.  The 2030 Agenda provided a road map to achieving the right to development, as all 17 Goals were consistent with that right.

To the European Union’s delegate question about how the Working Group could contribute to realizing the 2030 Agenda, he said it was important for that Group to interact with the Agenda’s mechanisms and that greater coordination between the Group and the Special Rapporteur would be beneficial.  As an independent officer, the Special Rapporteur would offer a transparent and impartial perspective.

Finally, he shared concerns about the low awareness of the right to development and said that it was important for Member States and the Secretariat to do more in that regard.

Also speaking were representatives of Cuba, China, Iran, Pakistan, Morocco, Eritrea and India.

On the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises

PAVEL SULAYANDZIGA, Chairperson of the United Nations Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, presented the Group’s report (document A/71/291) which suggested a practical framework for Governments to manage ownership in compliance with their human rights obligations.  The report also shed light on the application of Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to agribusiness such as palm‑oil and sugarcane sectors, he said.  States had the primary duty to provide protection against human rights abuses perpetrated by businesses within their territory or under their jurisdiction.  Turning to the responsibilities of business enterprises, he said it was crucially important for businesses to conduct thorough impact assessments commensurate with the severity of human rights risks, including impacts on indigenous rights, and land and tenure rights. 

He went on to say that financial institutions could play important role.  When finance freely flowed without accountability, there was little incentive to respect rights; commodity traders, for instance, whose duties had “until now” been under‑explored should be given more attention.  He listed five entry points which, if done right, could help prevent and address adverse impacts by agro‑business operations.  They included greater use of leverage by companies that might be contributing or directly linked to an adverse human rights impact, as well as access to remedy for affected communities, an issue which the Working Group would further examine.  The United Nations Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights, which would be held in Geneva from 14 to 16 November, had “Leadership and Leverage” as its theme, he concluded.

When the floor opened for questions, delegations asked about the Guiding Principles, with the United States’ delegate asking for details of their implementation.  Switzerland’s representative asked how the Guiding Principles could be implemented to avoid the exploitation of migrant workers, while the United Kingdom’s delegate asked about a sectoral approach and whether the international community should take a broader approach to implementing the Guiding Principles.  Cameroon’s representative, meanwhile, asked for information on cooperation between the Working Group and other relevant special procedures mandate holders.

Mr. SULYANZIGA, on measures to be taken by financial institutions to ensure indigenous peoples’ rights, pointed to existing measures, such as those of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development.  Anyone who approached that institution for a loan was obliged to respect those rights.  That was the type of mechanism that international financial institutions should model in their business dealings.  On including sugarcane as a high‑risk industry, as well as palm oil, he noted that the Working Group must eliminate gaps existing in those businesses, as had been done in the coffee and cacao businesses.  As those four staples were on every table, existing violations should be eliminated entirely. 

Asked about investigations in the area of migrant workers, he said the Working Group’s mandate included the holding of a yearly forum, namely the UN Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights, and had added another responsibility, namely regional forums.  Another important issue was coordinating activities for achieving the Guiding Principles, which was the Group’s main priority and its mandate.  Regarding human rights defenders, he agreed that protection and access to justice should remain the international community’s main priority.  As for cooperation between the Working Group and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli‑Corpuz, he noted that she would be a presenter at the Annual Forum in November.  Meetings had also been held which had involved the Working Group and all Special Rapporteurs whose work involved indigenous rights.

Also participating in the interactive dialogue were the representatives of the Russian Federation, Mexico, Brazil, Spain, Morocco, South Africa, Norway and Iran.  A representative of the European Union also spoke.

On the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order

ALFRED-MAURICE DE ZAYAS, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, said an estimated $32 trillion were being held offshore in secret jurisdictions, escaping just taxation.  The achievement of a democratic and equitable international order required significant changes in the current economic and financial regime, including just taxation worldwide, which only the United Nations could provide.  Banks, accounting firms and law firms had colluded in establishing phoney entities in order to avoid taxation.  There was a need to promote transparency and accountability, and to protect whistle‑blowers, as they used the most effective method to shine light on corruption.  Legislation should be adopted to protect them from reprisals and provide them with easy‑to‑access avenues to make disclosures.

He went on to recommend the adoption of a binding treaty of corporate social responsibility, stipulating the obligation to pay taxes in the location where the profits had been generated, and a prohibition on shifting profits.  He proposed an action plan that focused on two main issues:  greater financial transparency and robust actions to ensure multinational corporations paid their fair taxes.  In that plan, States should, among other things, establish an intergovernmental tax body under United Nations auspices to elaborate a Convention on Taxation.  The General Assembly should support the adoption of a legally binding instrument on corporate social responsibility prohibiting “aggressive tax avoidance”, while the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) should develop a strategy to protect the policy space of States in controlling capital flows.

Delegates then asked about the creation of an intergovernmental tax mechanism and the role of the United Nations in that regard, as well as what could be done in the short‑term to curb tax avoidance.  Another question centred on the best way to address competition among fiscal entities. Pakistan’s delegate noted that developing countries often had to make concessions to attract foreign investment.

Mr. DE ZAYAS replied that many different actors hid their funds offshore, often the result of human rights violations and criminal activities, such as bribery.  While desirable, an intergovernmental tax mechanism was not a quick fix solution.  Accountability and transparency would bring tax havens to an end.  On the role of UNCTAD, he urged that its role be strengthened so it could monitor the necessary reforms of national fiscal systems.  He had been asked by the Human Rights Council to prepare a study on the impact of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in that area, he said, reiterating that tax reforms were needed to pay for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The representatives of Morocco and Zimbabwe also participated in the interactive dialogue.

Right of Reply

The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said “South Korean” authorities had detained women from his country for months, a flagrant human rights violation.  He asked rhetorically who had forced his country to “develop nuclear,” answering that it was the United States.  Under that political situation, his country had no other option.  South Korea should improve its miserable human rights situation and return the women.

The representative of the Republic of Korea called those remarks “groundless” and that the human rights records of that country had spoken for themselves.  The “North Korean” workers referred to had defected of their own free will and had been admitted on humanitarian grounds.  Scores of “North Koreans” were fleeing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in search of human dignity and freedom, and the number of defectors —- 30,000 —— spoke for itself. 

The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea rejected such politicized allegations by the Republic of Korea, asking why those citizens had been denied contact with the press, if they had defected of their own will.  They should be returned to their families immediately.

For information media. Not an official record.