Adequate Housing Vital to Enjoying Decent Living Standards, Expert Tells Third Committee, as Governments Weigh Role of 'Big Tech' in Public Service Provision
Experts described a landscape where Governments evict indigenous peoples from their homes and use technology to deny people living in poverty access to basic services, as the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights today.
Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said social protection systems are increasingly driven by digital technologies, which are used, variously, to automate, predict, identify, surveil, detect, target and punish. The “Big Tech” companies creating these systems are unimpeded by ethical or human rights concerns. As a result, when States harness them for ostensibly noble purposes — such as welfare systems — they can act as “Trojan horses for neoliberal hostility towards social protection and regulation”.
In other words, he said, digital systems can be used to justify anything from welfare budget cuts to the elimination of services, to intrusive conditionalities on the provision of such resources. Left unchecked, they could lead to a “digital welfare dystopia”, where data matching and surveillance target welfare beneficiaries, leaving the wealthy unscathed.
In the ensuing dialogue, Kenya’s delegate objected to the Special Rapporteur’s description of his country’s national identity management system. The biodata captured does not include hand geometry, retinal imaging or DNA collection, and he asked that those references be removed from his report. In response, Mr. Alston expressed concern over a new bill outlining that every resident individual in Kenya — not just Kenyan nationals — would be required to present their biometric identity number to access public services. More broadly, he said new technology can be used to help the poor by tracking consumption patterns and triggering assistance in cases of need.
Leilani Farha, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, focused on indigenous peoples’ right to housing. “Indigenous peoples are the stewards of the Earth yet have lived in deplorable conditions for too long,” she said.
Describing the concept of “home” from an indigenous perspective, she said it encapsulates much more than a mere built structure: it defines a person’s place on Earth, rooting the sense of identity and culture in the land. Thus, when indigenous lands are stolen, the very identities and histories of indigenous peoples are nullified. To rectify this situation, States must declare a moratorium on the forced evictions of indigenous people. Resettlement should only take place if the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples is secured and just compensation provided, she said.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, the Russian Federation’s delegate drew attention to the impact of climate change on forcibly evicted indigenous peoples, stressing that violations against them can be traced back to colonization and discrimination. The representative of the European Union said indigenous peoples must be meaningfully involved in decision‑making that affects them.
In her briefing, Koumbou Boly Barry, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, highlighted the ways in which schools can be used to spread propaganda, division and hate, either through formal or hidden curricula. Stereotyping of women and minorities can occur, for example through the teaching of religious doctrines that describe the behaviour of a “good” or “bad girl”. To counter this possibility, it is vital that education promote acceptance, belonging, critical thinking, diversity and empathy.
Delegates largely agreed with Ms. Boly Barry’s assessment, with France’s representative underscoring the need to prevent children from being recruited as child soldiers and reduce gender‑based violence in schools. Meanwhile, Hungary’s delegate highlighted the importance of educating children on past atrocities in order to prevent future ones.
Also today, the Third Committee launched its general debate on the promotion and protection of human rights, with delegates taking to the floor to describe a wide range of successes and areas of concern. El Salvador’s representative, speaking for the LGBTI United Nations Core Group, underscored the need to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals from violence. While nine countries in the last five years had decriminalized homosexuality, there are still 69 countries where same‑sex behaviour between consenting adults is a crime.
Several delegates described the human rights situations around the world. Japan’s representative pointed out that the situation in Yemen cries out for an immediate political settlement, as 80 per cent of its population were in urgent need of aid. Meanwhile, the representative of Bangladesh said 1.2 million Rohingyas had fled their homes to escape the atrocity crimes of Myanmar’s military. Such violations of human rights must be addressed with “an iron hand”, he said. In turn, Myanmar’s delegate decried such aggressive naming‑and‑shaming, arguing that practical solutions, not politicization, were needed.
Leo Heller, Special Rapporteur on human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, also presented his report.
Also speaking in the general debate today were representatives of the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Japan, New Zealand, Liechtenstein, Australia, Norway, Peru, Zambia, Ecuador, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Sweden, Cyprus, Nepal, Greece, Guatemala, Mongolia, United States, Qatar, Argentina, Iran, Bahrain and Honduras.
The representative of the Holy See also spoke.
The representative of Syria spoke on a point of order.
The representatives of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Turkey, Cuba, China, Japan and Cyprus spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on 21 October to continue its consideration of the promotion and protection of human rights.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights today (for background, see Press Release GA/SHC/4266).
Interactive Dialogues ‑ Right to Education
KOUMBOU BOLY BARRY, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, presenting her report (document A/74/243), said her role is to understand and offer conditions that foster access to education. Her report does not only concern societies undergoing great change or turbulence but is equally relevant for tranquil communities. It traces developments since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in the evolution of goals and policies to foster education access. Everyone must enjoy an education adapted to their needs and allows them to accomplish educational goals that are both accepted by States and promoted by human rights mechanisms. Systems often do not work independently but are linked to the societies in which they function. Describing obstacles, she said schools can be used to sow division in communities or to dictate propaganda. In history, geography, arts, language, religion and science classes, the seeds of division and hate can be sown explicitly — or through hidden curricula promoting stereotypes of minorities. Schools can impose religious doctrines reinforcing images of a “good girl” and a “bad girl”, or texts that exclude girls altogether. Resources are often lacking, and without appropriate financing and qualified teachers, education systems will lack the means required to demolish the tools of hatred.
Education must be of high quality, she said, noting that atrocity crimes will not be prevented unless the right to equitable inclusive education is upheld. Only an approach based on the right to education can ensure that students’ potential is harnessed. Children, adult men and women must enjoy this right, which allows them to live in peaceful and democratic societies. Achieving that goal requires understanding a society in its full complexity and allowing citizens to develop their critical and creative spirits. She advocated taking a holistic approach to the right to education, stressing that education systems help to create an environment where quality and inclusivity prevail. Such values stop crises from erupting. All States must propose a system of quality education and ensure that they have all the resources needed. In that context, she proposed use of the “ABCDE” framework — meaning that education must promote acceptance, belonging, critical thinking, diversity and empathy.
When the floor was opened for interactive dialogue, the representative of Hungary expressed strong support for the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations to take a more inclusive approach towards minority languages, highlighting the importance of educating children on past atrocities, especially the Holocaust. She underscored Hungary’s focus on policies assisting students with special needs and minorities, including Roma students. The European Union’s delegate described various education actions, over half of them promoting education for girls. Recognizing that schools can be used to sow division and propaganda, he asked how to ensure that schools play a positive role in preventing mass atrocities. In the same vein, the representative of Maldives said schools can be used to promote peace or to spread extremist ideologies. The Russian Federation’s delegate meanwhile pointed to initiatives in Kiev aimed at marginalizing Russian nationals in the country, notably the adoption of a national law stating that Ukrainian is the majority language. He urged the Special Rapporteur to visit Ukraine and Latvia to examine these discriminatory policies. France’s representative reiterated his country’s commitment to education of girls by participating in many projects, particularly in the Sahel, since education is essential for social inclusion and access to decent employment. He further stressed the need to prevent the recruitment of children for conflict and to reduce gender‑based violence in schools, asking about combating hate speech on social networks.
Ms. BOLY BARRY, replying, underscored the need to focus on values and — more importantly — carrying out these values through a holistic approach. Even in early childhood, children should be taught to apologize or express gratitude. It is at this level that children must be taught to resolve conflict and recognize the diversity of others. Regarding financing, she said the best education plan in the world will not be realized without adequate resources. Underscoring the importance of private financing in reducing inequalities, she said free, public and inclusive education should be every State’s priority. Regarding hate speech on social networks, she stressed the need to start with the family, then the school, as values must be embodied at a very early age. Schools must be able to transform society. With a focus on the fundamental values at schools, the issue of hate speech will be resolved.
Also speaking were representatives of Indonesia, Maldives, United States, China and Morocco.
PHILIP ALSTON, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, presenting the final report of his mandate, said that across the world, social protection systems are increasingly driven by digital technologies, including national identity systems, which are used, variously, to automate, predict, identify, surveil, detect, target and punish. “The very real risk is that we are stumbling zombie‑like into a digital welfare dystopia,” he stressed. In such a future, surveillance and data matching technologies would be used in a manner that would undermine individual autonomy, and target welfare beneficiaries for minor irregularities, while staying clear of the well‑off.
In sum, he said digital biometric identity systems represent “Trojan Horses for neoliberal hostility towards social protection and regulation”, and their implementation would be in concert with cuts to the welfare budget, a narrowing of the beneficiary pool, the elimination of some services, and the introduction of demanding and intrusive forms of conditionality. Nonetheless, Governments are hastily implementing such systems without ensuring transparency, accountability or legal protection. “A better recipe for abuse is difficult to imagine,” he emphasized. He went on to outline other risks, including that digital welfare systems serve the subjective preferences of “Big Tech”, unfettered by ethical or human rights standards, adding that the technology sector is rife with “endemic” issues of discrimination and bias. He concluded that the “real digital welfare State revolution” would be to deploy technologies to ensure a better living standard for the vulnerable, “instead of obsessing about fraud, cost savings, sanctions, and market‑driven definitions of efficiency”.
In the ensuing dialogue, the European Union’s representative said initiatives to govern the use of new technologies must consider the issue of poverty. In the European Union, there is a notion of universal and guaranteed access to digital service at a reasonable price. He asked for examples of new technologies that have been used to fight poverty.
Kenya’s delegate objected to the report’s paragraph 18, which could have been removed if the Special Rapporteur had taken the time to learn both sides of the story. In its bid to deliver better service to its citizens, Kenya launched a national identity integrated management system, which serves as a population register and repository of data for every resident individual. Paragraph 18 contains incorrect information. The voluntary biodata capture was limited to the fingerprints and facials; individuals were not required to provide hand geometry, earlobe, retinal, iris, voice‑waves and DNA. He requested that the Special Rapporteur remove the incorrect information.
Eritrea’s representative asked how countries that have not reached a high technological level for digital welfare systems can avoid creating systems that impede access. The representative of Morocco said there needs to be a balance between the digital age’s benefits and the dangers that new technologies bring with it. The most financially vulnerable often do not have the digital access they need to access their benefits.
Mr. ALSTON, responding to Kenya’s delegate, noted that newspapers in that country have devoted much attention to the ways in which the new Kenyan identity card would be used. Those reports have focused on the Huduma bill, which was recently presented by the Government to Parliament. Section 8 of that bill says that every resident individual — not just Kenyan nationals — shall have a mandatory obligation to present their biometric identity number in order to be issued with a passport, apply for a driver’s license, register a mobile phone, register as a voter, pay taxes, transact in the financial markets, open a bank account, register a company, transfer land, register for electricity, access health care, benefit from the Government’s housing scheme, and a host of other public services. The conditions that the Government has formally proposed should be attached to use of the card are extensive. Other concerns relate to the existence of a great many individuals who have long remained off the official radar in the sense of being unregistered, such as the Nubian population who are effectively stateless. The new identity card system is highly likely to exacerbate that situation. He expressed hope that these matters will be resolved by litigation that is currently under way in the Supreme Court of Kenya.
Responding to other comments, he said that in some ways, the European Union and its regulatory structures represent “the best hope” for counteracting monopolization by big technology. Regarding the use of new technology to help the poor, he said technology can be used negatively to track consumption patterns of people on welfare, so that if they are doing things they should not be doing, their benefits are cut. A serious system would see a problem and trigger assistance, he said, not the cancelation of benefits. To Eritrea’s representative, he said some countries in the global South feel that they must immediately move to a comprehensive biometric system, but the reality is that today’s “state‑of‑the‑art” will not be that of tomorrow. As a result, if a developing country thinks it should immediately embrace new technology, the response should be that, in a couple of years, there will be new systems that might be more affordable.
Also speaking were the representatives of China and France.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom), on behalf of 69 countries, expressed concern that women human rights defenders are disproportionately exposed to gender‑specific barriers, threats and violence. She also expressed alarm at the number of attacks against journalists and media workers. She strongly condemned any act of intimidation and reprisal, whether online or offline, against individuals and groups who cooperate or seek to cooperate with the United Nations. In this respect, she urged States to ensure adequate protection against such acts by raising awareness and by investigating and ensuring accountability and effective remedy for such acts, whether perpetrated by State or non‑State actors. Everything should be done to enable them to work and live in safety without fear of intimidation or violence. She welcomed the positive steps taken by those States that have responded to acts of reprisals against persons and groups in their countries.
EGRISELDA ARACELY GONZÁLEZ LÓPEZ (El Salvador), speaking for the LGBTI United Nations Core Group, said protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals from violence and discrimination does not require the creation of new or special rights. The legal obligations of States to uphold the human rights of all individuals, including LGBTI persons, without distinction of any kind, are well established in international human rights law. Many people around the world suffer violence and discrimination because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics. Over the last five years, nine countries have decriminalized homosexuality and some progress has been achieved in fighting violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, there are still 69 countries where consensual same‑sex behaviour between adults is criminalized. An inclusive society enables every person, including LGBTI persons, to enjoy protection from violence and discrimination, she declared.
MARCEL ROIJEN, European Union delegation, said that protecting and promoting human rights requires a strong accountability framework, especially in situations where violations are seen on a systemic scale. In this regard, he underscored his support for an effective International Criminal Court and called for the universal ratification of the Rome Statute. Expressing concern about reprisals against civil society organizations and rights defenders cooperating with the United Nations, he went on to outline initiatives to promote positive human rights stories, and pointed to recently adopted guidelines on water and sanitation, which underline the European Union’s commitment to help make safe drinking water and sanitation accessible worldwide.
Ms. WAGNER (Switzerland) expressed concern that national security plans are at times prioritized over human rights. She underscored Switzerland’s focus on women’s rights in the context of armed conflict, peacebuilding and conflict prevention, pointing to the disproportionate effects of armed conflict on women, as sexual violence is used as a weapon of war. In an era of digital transformation which creates new challenges, she recognized the huge potential of digitalization for human rights protection. However, digital technology also brings new forms of harassment and intimidation, especially towards women and the protection of their privacy. Human rights must be defended as strongly in the digital world as they are in the real world, she asserted.
YORIKO SUZUKI (Japan) addressed serious human rights issues in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Myanmar, Syria and Yemen. She called on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to comply with its obligations arising from international human rights law, to enable the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to fulfil its monitoring and protection mandate, and to cooperate with the international community. The abduction of Japanese citizens is among Pyongyang’s “gravest” human rights violations and called for their immediate release. She urged Myanmar to carry out credible and transparent investigations into alleged rights violations in northern Rakhine State through its Independent Commission of Enquiry. On Syria, she expressed concern that military operations in the country’s north-east will worsen the humanitarian situation, and underscored Japan’s position that the Syrian crisis cannot be solved by military means. Turning to Yemen, she pointed out that 80 per cent of the population needs humanitarian assistance and called for an early political settlement of the crisis.
SARAH MCDOWELL (New Zealand) welcomed the development of the new United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy, which offers a much‑needed institutional framework for implementing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Underscoring that accessibility is a precondition for an inclusive society, she pointed out that it requires a removal of physical barriers as well as a change in attitudes. She touched on New Zealand’s partnership with the Pacific Disability Forum, in the form of support for data analysis and capacity‑building, adding that nearly 20 per cent of people in Pacific island countries have some form of disability.
MYRIAM OEHRI (Liechtenstein) said the trend to undermine human rights standards goes hand‑in‑hand with increasing attacks against multilateral achievements, in particular in the area of international law. Stressing the importance of accountability, she pointed to the Human Rights Council accountability mechanism for heinous crimes committed against the Rohingya and other religious minorities in Myanmar. This is a crucial step to guarantee accountability, which is indispensable for the safe and voluntary return of Rohingya refugees and forcibly displaced persons. She deplored that this year’s Human Rights Council resolution omits references to accountability, including important steps taken by the International Criminal Court in the context of forced deportation, noting that Liechtenstein will nonetheless continue its political investment in the Council.
MAJID KHAN (Bangladesh) expressed regret that States are failing in their responsibility to protect people during conflict. He called on them to address the causes of violence, stressing that rights violations must be addressed with “an iron hand”. Condemning the atrocity crimes committed by the military of Myanmar that forced 1.2 million Rohingyas to flee their homes, many taking shelter in Bangladesh, he underlined the failure of voluntary repatriation attempts to date. He urged Myanmar to guarantee the rights of the Rohingya for repatriation. He also outlined Bangladesh’s efforts to promote and protect human rights, pointing to the presentation of its universal periodic review, and reports to both the Committee Against Torture and to the Human Rights Committee on the situation of civil and political rights in 2017.
JO FELDMAN (Australia) said her country is proud of its leadership in amplifying the voices of Pacific countries and welcomed Fiji’s recent membership to the Human Rights Council, the first Pacific island country to join. She also welcomed the Marshall Islands’ candidacy for the same organ in 2020. Gender equality and the rights of women and girls are priorities for Australia, she said, noting that it advocates for women and girls’ empowerment, including in discussions on gender‑based violence and discrimination. Australia is also Vice Chair of the Bureau of the Commission on the Status of Women and on the board of United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN‑Women).
MONA JUUL (Norway) called for all rights — social, economic, cultural, civil, and political to be respected — with no caveats. There must be no discrimination against LGBTI persons. On gender equality, she said that reproductive health and rights for women and girls are a prerequisite for sustainable development and stressed the need for comprehensive sexuality education. She expressed concern about the report by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, as well as the shrinking of space for open discourse. On rights defenders, who are being silenced, arrested and even murdered, she underscored the need for States to focus on implementation of protections of their rights, as violations against them are on the rise. She went on to underline the need for more funding for human rights promotion and protection, which is one of the three pillars of the United Nations, yet only receives 3 per cent of its budget. Norway is a top donor to OHCHR and will continue to support it.
AMADEO SOLARI (Peru) said respect for human rights and the rule of law remains his country’s priority. Peru has undertaken significant efforts to build a more inclusive society in which all citizens are equal before the law, with a robust institutional structure guaranteeing that due process is followed. He drew attention to the rights of children, people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups. Underscoring the importance of protecting human rights defenders and all migrant workers and their families, he reiterated Peru’s support for OHCHR.
Ms. SAKALA (Zambia) said States should have a clear legal framework and robust institutions for justice, governance, security and human rights. Zambia’s Constitution establishes institutions that facilitate compliance with obligations arising from human rights instruments, and importantly, prohibits torture. Earlier in 2019, Zambia enacted its Mental Health Act No. 6, which protects the rights of persons with mental illness, impairment and disability and gives effect to many international human rights instruments. The Government has also developed the Children’s Code bill, which will domesticate the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
FABIÁN OSWALDO GARCÍA PAZ Y MIÑO (Ecuador) explained that his country has ratified all fundamental conventions created pursuant to human rights treaties. Development is more than a right in itself; it is a prerequisite for protecting human rights. Ecuador’s national development plan for 2017‑2021 prioritizes respect for the human rights of all, from cradle to grave. Within the Human Rights Council, Ecuador has championed greater cooperation with the Inter‑Parliamentary Union and OHCHR, and more broadly championed the creation of draft principles for Parliaments to use as a tool for self‑evaluation.
MOHAMMED ESSAM M. KHASHAAN (Saudi Arabia) stressed the importance of laws promoting and protecting human rights, pointing out that his country amended the labour law to include gender parity. While welcoming participation and inclusion, he said Saudi Arabia rejects any traditions that do not conform with its own. He reiterated the Government’s determination to cooperate with the international community to promote human rights.
Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation
LEO HELLER, Special Rapporteur on human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, said that megaprojects impede the enjoyment of human rights to water and sanitation, due to the extensive land taken up by such projects, as well as the reduced availability and accessibility of water caused by overexploitation, blockage, deviation or deterioration in quality. These factors, in turn, impact rights to housing, health and education, he stressed, as well as lead to social conflicts, due to the massive power differential between the proponents of such projects and the people adversely impacted by them.
While megaprojects are taken for granted as the natural way for development to take place in national policies, he said States must consider both their advantages and adverse effects on human rights. “Such a balancing exercise should be based on the principle of necessity,” he stressed. To this end, his report (document A/74/197) outlines seven stages in the life cycle of megaprojects, from planning to decommissioning, and offers a checklist for accountable actors to implement human rights obligations and responsibilities. States should also address contingency plans for disasters caused by the collapse of such projects in the planning stage. Recalling the General Assembly resolution recognizing water and sanitation as human rights 10 years ago, he went on to note that 2020 is the last year of his mandate. As such, his last report to the Assembly will address the impact of privatization on the human rights to water and sanitation.
In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of the European Union asked how it can integrate a human rights approach into international cooperation standards, noting that it is a major international donor to development projects. Spain’s delegate, also speaking for Germany, which partners on the issue of drinking water and sanitation, asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on ways in which the Committee can address issues of menstrual health.
The representative of Algeria said his country had improved national indicators related to drinking water and sanitation through its 75 dams and 11 desalination and purification projects, reiterated his invitation to the Special Rapporteur to conduct an official working visit to Algeria, and asked how the Committee plans to address universal access to drinking water. Meanwhile, the representative of Brazil said his country is taking measures to support those affected by the Brumadinho dam collapse, which took place earlier this year, and asked how regulatory gaps can be closed in planning megaprojects.
Mr. HELLER responded that while diverse megaprojects are proliferating around the world, the populations affected by them continue to be excluded from consultations. Replying to the European Union, he stated that international cooperation is a topic addressed in previous reports. He said that although he had identified many funders who took a positive human rights approach to megaprojects, there was a gap between planning and implementation. The framework laid out in the current report could be useful to ensure such megaprojects do not impact human rights as often as is seen.
To Spain’s representative, he noted that menstrual hygiene is an issue covered in a previous report on gender equality. In the course of field visits and country missions, he often witnessed how women and girls lacked adequate facilities and materials in schools and public buildings. Replying to Algeria’s delegate, he underlined the inextricable link between the 2030 Agenda and universal access to water and sanitation, adding that he has asked the World Health Organization (WHO) / United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Joint Monitoring Programme for the Water and Sanitation Sector to use a human rights framework in their efforts.
To Brazil’s representative, he said that megaprojects are licensed and approved through environmental legislation, but it is necessary to incorporate a human rights framework through the informed consent of the affected population.
Also speaking in the interactive dialogue were representatives of China and Maldives.
LEILANI FARHA, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non‑discrimination in this context, said the struggle of indigenous peoples for human rights is deeply rooted in the concept of home. Understood from an indigenous perspective, this concept is not just about a built structure, but rather, a person’s place on the planet, defined through land, resources, identity and culture. Indigenous peoples the world over have been wrested from home in every sense of the word. Their identities, histories and cultures are denied, their lands are stolen and they are stripped of their resources through land grabbing, extractive industries and development projects, including pipeline and dam construction. They are told where they cannot live, relocated to the least productive lands and denied the necessities of life, such as potable water and sanitation services.
States should declare a moratorium on forced evictions, she said. All such evictions should be suspended until national legislation governing them has been adopted, in compliance with international human rights standards. Resettlement or relocation should take place only with the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation. Indigenous peoples are the stewards of the Earth yet have lived in deplorable conditions for too long, she said, warning that oppressive or colonial systems that have fueled this reality for too long can no longer be excused. States must urgently address the abhorrent housing conditions of indigenous peoples in reservations, as well as in rural and urban settings. Human rights are illusory if they cannot be claimed, she said, underscoring that indigenous peoples must have effective access to justice systems that comply with international human rights norms, as well as through the formal justice system.
In the interactive dialogue, the representative of the European Union said indigenous peoples are disproportionately affected by all human rights struggles, including housing, and stressed the importance of engaging indigenous communities in decision-making, and securing their full participation in a meaningful way. He asked the Special Rapporteur to share examples of good practices. In a similar vein, Germany’s delegate said the situation of homelessness must be tackled around the world, expressing concern over the effects of climate change on housing and asking about the impact of the lack of water access on housing. Meanwhile, the representative of the Russian Federation said forcibly evicted or homeless, indigenous peoples suffer from the consequences of climate change and lack of access to drinking water. Such grave violations stem from colonization and deep‑rooted discrimination, he asserted, pointing to Canada, where almost half of First Nations people live on reservations, as well as to Hawaii and Australia, calling on their Governments to secure adequate housing without discrimination.
The Special Rapporteur replied, stressing that the only good practices are those that involve indigenous peoples in the solution. In Mexico City, for example, she witnessed a successful urban project which led to the establishment of a vibrant community. She also pointed to a successful urban indigenous strategy in Canada — by indigenous people for indigenous people. She expressed concern over the violence against and marginalization of indigenous women, who are less secure if they lack access to housing. Communities based on patriarchal systems in which indigenous women do not have the ability to own property. All of that exacerbates women’s poverty and does not allow for their economic liberty.
She went on to underscore the lack of access to water and sanitation, pointing to her visit to Nigeria. She visited a community with no access to water and with the opportunity to pay for water to be delivered to them. Since it was outside the capacity of their household, they were using contaminated water from the river in front of their houses. This resulted in cholera, ill health and premature death. With poor health consequences, the right to life comes into question, she noted, expressing alarm over the conditions in which indigenous peoples live. Agreeing with the Russian Federation’s delegate who called for a rapid change of the situation, she underscored that the right to adequate housing is the most articulated social and economic right. The right to housing provides legal standards necessary for its implementation and it should be legislated at the domestic level. Only a human rights approach to housing will bring the world closer to the 2030 Agenda.
Also speaking in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Brazil and China.
Ms. ALABTAN (Iraq) said her country has ratified eight international conventions on human rights, despite difficulties experienced by the fall of the regime. On the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, Iraq is working on a law to criminalize them, and is cooperating with the Committee on emergency measures. Initiatives include the creation of a designated email address for affected parties. Iraq has also opened a section for such cases within the Ministry of Justice. On torture, she touched on a draft law adhering to the relevant international conventions and has a notification system to better enable victims to use the law.
ANNA-KARIN ENESTRÖM (Sweden) said that around the world, rights and fundamental freedoms are being challenged, and civic space shrinking. To counter such negative trends, Sweden launched a new initiative called the Drive for Democracy, which touches on trade and development cooperation. Stressing that human rights and the rule of law are essential for inclusive societies, she said Sweden is fostering gender equality, including through a feminist foreign policy. “Democracy cannot be taken for granted; it must be defended every day,” she said.
ANDREAS MAVROYIANNIS (Cyprus), associating with the European Union, expressed concern over human rights violations against Cypriots stemming from Turkey’s invasion and ongoing occupation of part of Cyprus. Indeed, Cyprus has drawn attention to these abuses for 45 years, he said, recalling that a third of Greek Cypriots were displaced as a result of Turkey’s armed aggression and continue to be denied the right to return to their places of origin. Apart from the violation of Cypriots’ property rights, Turkey perpetrates demographic engineering, violating daily the rights of the few hundred Greek Cypriots and Maronites who live in occupied areas. These enclaved persons — drastically reduced in number as a result of persistent harassment — live under a siege that seeks to decimate them. Their rights to privacy and family life, and freedoms of expression and religion are constantly violated. Furthermore, more than half of the remains of 2,001 missing persons are yet to be found or identified and returned to their families.
AMRIT BAHADUR RAI (Nepal) said that his country is a multi-ethnic, multireligious and multicultural State, whose independent and impartial judiciary system has been a custodian of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Nepal’s commitment is reflected in the fact that it is a State party to 24 international human rights‑related conventions and protocols. Nepal has remained engaged with United Nations human rights mechanisms. In 2018, its three periodic reports — under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women — were considered by the respective treaty bodies.
MARIA THEOFILI (Greece), associating with the European Union, said that in April, the country received an official visit by the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice. Having presented its periodic review on its implementation of the Convention against Torture, Greece is currently drafting its National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, which will reflect the current realities of the unprecedented migration and refugee crisis, and build on the national policy for refugee and asylum‑seeking women. She went on to describe Greece’s focus on upholding media freedoms, emphasizing the safety of women media professionals working in conflict areas. She also drew attention to the human rights situation in Cyprus, expressing concern that almost 200,000 Greek Cypriots are internally displaced, as Turkey prevents them from returning to their ancestral homes and from exercising their property rights. Enclaved Greek‑Cypriots in the occupied territory of Cyprus are being denied full protection of their human rights, she asserted, pointing also to the destruction of the island’s cultural heritage in the occupied area.
OMAR CASTAÑEDA SOLARES (Guatemala) said many discouraging situations around the world involve human rights violations against women, children and migrants. His country places a special emphasis on prevention, in relation to corruption, health, education and security. In particular, Guatemala takes a zero‑tolerance approach to corruption, which is important for development to benefit everybody. However, for this, more modern Government machinery is needed. Guatemala’s development plan incorporates the 2030 Agenda. Guatemala is open, he said, citing its cooperation with universal periodic reviews, a 2017 visit by the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous People and a national policy which recognizes the work done by human rights defenders, for which it consulted the Special Rapporteur on that topic. It is also examining the structural causes of migration, with neighbouring countries, in order to stem migration and protect the rights of migrants.
Mr. CHAN AYE (Myanmar) stressed that human rights issues should not be approached in isolation, and condemned the aggressive naming‑and‑shaming exercise which is counterproductive. Practical, not political, stances must be taken, without politicization and bias. Accountability must be sought to ensure peace and stability in Rakhine State. Regarding the repatriation issue, the Government signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh, accommodating the repatriation process. He further called for cooperation with international partners to secure a meaningful solution.
Mr. DRIUCHIN (Russian Federation) said the growing politicization of human rights is leading to accusatory rhetoric and unilateral restrictions. This is unacceptable and undermines countries’ sovereign rights. Certain States are not concerned with assuring their citizens’ dignity and instead focused on enriching their elite friends, “spooking” capital, selling their military products, and accessing cheap natural resources and labour. In Ukraine, he said, “anti‑Russia hysteria” is being witnessed, and in Canada, a “monstrous trampling of human rights” of indigenous people. In addition, neo‑Nazi ideologies are being propagated in Europe, and there is an uptick in racism and historical revisionism. Christians are persecuted in some European States; unpunished desecration of holy sites continues; and there is a spike in anti‑Islamic sentiment. He expressed concern about the challenges faced by Russian journalists around the world, which requires investigating.
GERELTSETSEG BAATARSUREN (Mongolia) said that her country has extended a standing invitation to special procedure mandate holders since 2004. Most recently, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders visited in May 2019. During his two‑week visit, he met with Government officials, human rights defenders and representatives of civil society and the business sector, in both the Ulaanbaatar area and Dornogovi province. The report on his visit will be presented to the Human Rights Council in 2020. Mongolia also strongly supports the universal periodic review process, she said, noting that it serves as an important instrument in achieving universal human rights, as well as fostering country initiatives to protect those rights.
CHERITH NORMAN-CHALET (United States) pointed to Iran’s practice of arbitrary detention to silence individuals and human rights defenders, calling on the Government to release detainees. In China, the United States remains deeply troubled by detentions in re-education camps and the use of force against protesters in Hong Kong. In Syria, the United States condemns the violation of international humanitarian law, she said, also objecting to Turkey’s actions which threaten the security and stability in the region. In Myanmar, she condemned the use of dubious legal charges against journalists and treatment of the Rohingya minority. Calling on the Russian Federation to end reprisals against Crimea, she criticized the ongoing pressure on civil society and the media. She further expressed concern over the human rights situation in Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela, South Sudan, Burundi, Egypt and Yemen.
SHARIFA YOUSEF A. S. ALNESF (Qatar) touched on comprehensive measures her country has taken to improve the lives of migrant workers, including the reform of labour laws, improvement of labour inspections, protection and litigation systems, as well as the abolition of the Kafala sponsorship system. She noted the setting up of a trust fund for migrant workers, and the country’s cooperation with the International Labour Organization (ILO), which opened a bureau in Doha in 2018. Noting that Qatar has been a member of the Human Rights Council for four terms, she went on to denounce the unlawful blockade against her country. This “fabricated crisis” has violated Qatar’s rights, and jeopardized international peace and security for the past two years, she stressed.
MARTÍN GARCÍA MORITÁN (Argentina), associating with the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said human rights are universal and the pillars continue to support each other, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. Under the 2030 Agenda, Argentina committed itself to ensuring that all people can fully exercise their rights, especially the most vulnerable. Only a binding instrument could ensure the full enjoyment of human rights; and indeed, the seriousness of rights violations around the world requires a special instrument. He expressed support for the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy, underscoring Argentina’s firm commitment to protecting people against enforced disappearances.
KAREN PIERCE, (United Kingdom), associating herself with the European Union, said her country will leave the European Union on 31 October, and will continue to work closely with the bloc towards shared values and a rules‑based international system. Human rights form a strong moral anchor for the United Nations system, she said, before touching on three priorities: freedom of religion, the rights of LGBT persons, media freedom and the protection of civil society space. On gender, she said it is harrowing that 23,000 women die every year due to backstreet abortions, and that crimes of sexual violence continue. She condemned hate crimes against LGBT persons. She encouraged Member States to join the Global Pledge on Media Freedom, more broadly expressing concern that human rights defenders face threats around the world.
FREDRIK HANSEN, observer for the Holy See, said as States discuss the implementation of human rights instruments, they should do so with the understanding that a profound gap exists between ideals and reality. Citing Pope Francis’s observation, that injustice is “fed by reductive anthropological visions and by a profit‑based economic model, which does not hesitate to exploit, discard and even kill human beings”, he expressed concern about the plight of the unborn, who are denied the right to come into the world, as well as those who suffer torture, enforced disappearances, are deprived of work or work as slaves. The “inherent dignity of the human person” must be foregrounded in all discussions about human rights, without which such discussions risk being superficial or politicized, he said.
MOHAMMAD HASSANI NEJAD PIRKOUHI (Iran) said millions of civilians live in despair in Palestine, calling the silence around such brutality inexcusable. He pointed to the United States, where police brutality continues with impunity and thousands of children have been separated from their parents. Extrajudicial killings by the United States army take place in Guantanamo and other camps. He further condemned Canada’s treatment of indigenous communities and hate crimes against members of religious minorities, including Muslims. The regime in Washington D.C. practices economic terrorism, he said, objecting to politicization at the United Nations.
Ms. AL ABBASI (Bahrain) said her country guarantees freedom of religion to all expatriates. A spirit of coexistence prevails and respect for “the other” is assured. Bahrain is proud of its religious diversity and rejects all practices that foment extremism. The Government works to consolidate peaceful coexistence and a culture of moderation and dialogue around the world, she said, adding that the General Assembly has adopted the suggestion by the Prime Minister of Bahrain, to celebrate April 5 as the International Day of Conscience.
ISABELLA REGINA RIVERA REYES (Honduras), associating with the Group of Friends of Older Persons, underscored the importance of the report on the rights of migrants and their families, noting that migration is a human right which has been exercised since the dawn of history. People have always migrated to obtain better opportunities. Expressing support for the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, she said all people share the same human condition. As such, irregular migration should not be criminalized. The goal should be to end the reasons for migration.
Right of Reply
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, objected to the “provocative words” used by Japan’s representative, calling Japan a “war criminal State” that once occupied the Korean peninsula, during which it forcibly abducted young people and sexually violated 200,000 women and girls. Japan should reflect, apologize and compensate its victims, instead of “escaping and liquidating its crime”, which it cannot get away with “even if one thousand years pass”. Stressing that the “abduction issue” with Japanese people has been resolved thanks to sincere efforts by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he called on Japan to settle its historical sins.
The representative of Turkey said Turkish Cypriots were forced out of Government institutions and judiciary organs of Cyprus in 1963. Atrocities against Turkish Cypriots are well documented in United Nations archives. In the following 10 years, 180,000 Turkish Cypriots were displaced multiple times and forced to live in scattered enclaves. Regarding missing persons, Turkish Cypriot authorities are taking all necessary steps to ensure that the work of the Committee proceeds unhindered. It should not be forgotten that hundreds of Turkish Cypriots went missing between 1963 and 1974. The inventory work conducted by Turkish Cypriot authorities to assess the condition of properties and the environmental risks in Varosha is fully in line with international law.
Cuba’s delegate “vigorously rejected” the statement by the United States delegate, adding that if that Government was concerned with human rights it would do away with the embargo imposed on Cuba for 60 years. As the first country to use nuclear weapons on innocent civilians and as a country that has committed brutal rights violations — including massacres and deaths and torture in Guantanamo — the United States has no authority to judge Cuba or anyone else. The United States must stay silent, as a Government which separates mothers from children, cages children like animals, utters racist comments, and promotes war not peace; death not life; and spends a massive budget on the military. “You commit human rights violations, and respect neither life nor development,” she stressed.
China’s representative said that what is taking place in Xinjiang are anti‑terrorism and deradicalization measures; they are not targeted at any religion or group. She urged the United States representative to “respect facts and give up baseless accusations”. On Hong Kong, she said, forces are attacking law enforcement, setting fire to public properties and threatening the stability and safety of Hong Kong’s citizens. Amid these challenges, the police are acting professionally and exerting minimal force. No one has the right to interfere with China’s internal affairs; its sovereignty must be respected.
The representative of Japan, responding to comments by the representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, urged that Government to implement the Stockholm Agreement and send all detainees to Japan as soon as possible. The delegate’s statement is based on factual errors, he said, and Japan has consistently respected democracy and human rights. He proposed greater cooperation between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Japan.
The representative of Cyprus, replying to remarks by Turkey’s representative, said rules on the use of force are clearly defined in the United Nations Charter and what happened in Cyprus was not in line with the Charter. Regarding displaced Turkish Cypriots, she said that, following the Turkish invasion, they were forced to move by the occupying power. Turkish actions in Varosha are not in line with relevant Security Council resolutions.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea reiterated that while his Government had solved the “abduction issue”, Japan cannot escape responsibility for its hideous past crimes. It must officially apologize and compensate.
In reply, the representative of Japan reiterated that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea must respect the Stockholm Agreement of May 2014, and carry out its promise to investigate and repatriate abducted Japanese nationals. He said that the two countries should foster a relationship of mutual trust and cooperation and work together towards a bright future.