Third Committee Approves 7 Drafts on Torture, Crime Prevention amid Protracted Procedural Votes on Text Concerning Human Rights in Syria
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) sent seven draft resolutions to the General Assembly today, covering a range of topics, from torture and crime prevention to the provision of technical assistance on counter-terrorism by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The Committee approved — without a vote — a draft on torture, by which the Assembly would call upon all States, as well as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and other United Nations bodies and agencies, to commemorate, on 26 June, the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. It would also call upon States Parties to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to fulfil their obligation to submit for prosecution or extradite those alleged to have committed acts of torture, regardless of where such acts were committed.
The Committee also approved — without a vote — six other drafts, which came under the broad theme of crime prevention and criminal justice, recommended for approval by the Economic and Social Council.
The first, on integrating sport into youth crime prevention and criminal-justice strategies, would have the Assembly request UNODC to continue to identify and disseminate information and good practices on the use of sport in connection with crime and violence prevention, while the second would have the Assembly request the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice to prepare a draft declaration addressing the main topics to be discussed at the Fourteenth Congress.
Another draft would have the Assembly urge Member States to provide access to education for all, including technical and professional skills, and to promote lifelong learning skills for all.
Two drafts touched on the issue of cybercrime, the first of which, on “Promoting technical assistance and capacity-building to strengthen national measures and international cooperation to combat cybercrime, including information-sharing”, would have the Assembly urge Member States to encourage the training of law-enforcement officers, investigative authorities, prosecutors and judges in the field of cybercrime, and also to equip them to carry out their roles in investigating, prosecuting and adjudicating cybercrime offences.
Meanwhile, a draft titled “Countering child sexual exploitation and sexual abuse online” would have the Assembly call upon Member States that are parties to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography to implement their legal obligations.
By a final draft on “Technical assistance provided by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime related to counter-terrorism”, the General Assembly would call on States to strengthen international coordination to prevent and counter terrorism, as well as to implement relevant international instruments and United Nations resolutions.
In a blast of procedural drama, a vote on whether to consider a draft resolution on the situation of human rights in Syria — submitted a few hours after the deadline for the submission of draft proposals on Wednesday, 30 October — incited furious debate, with Syria’s representative objecting to the reopening of the Committee’s work programme, before calling for the suspension of the meeting. “There is no legal basis which allows for a vote on this procedural matter,” he stressed, adding that if the vote took place, it would “go down in the history of the United Nations” as having breached the rules of procedure. The Committee then proceeded to vote on suspension of the meeting, rejecting that proposal by a recorded vote of 88 against to 18 in favour, with 37 abstentions.
This led to further vociferous objections by Syria’s delegate, who demanded an appeal of the Chair’s ruling against suspension of the meeting and requesting a legal opinion. The Committee then rejected the appeal against the Chair’s ruling by a recorded vote of 89 against to 13 in favour, with 36 abstentions. In its final action, the Committee then decided to consider the draft resolution on the human rights situation in Syria during its seventy-fourth session by a recorded vote of 91 in favour to 19 against, with 40 abstentions.
Iran’s representative was among several denouncing what he termed the opening of the Committee’s work programme, stressing that the rules of procedure must be respected and that the Committee must avoid setting “an unfortunate precedent which can affect the standing and status of our work.”
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 7 November, to take action on draft resolutions.
Turning first to torture, the representative of Denmark introduced a draft resolution on “Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (document A/C.3/74/L.24), which carries no programme budget implications. The draft reflects improvements made since the last text on the topic was approved in 2017. It now recognizes and underlines the potential negative impact of corruption on torture and emphasizes that prevention of torture is a measure to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 16 (peace, justice, strong institutions). It also recognizes the gender-specific needs in the criminal-justice system and encourages all States to take the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders into consideration. He made one oral revision to the text, which entails the deletion of preambular Paragraph 11.
The representative of Argentina, in general statement, expressed regret over the deletion of paragraph 11 on the alliance — language used two years ago, and an example of how State alliances can work together to prevent the trade in goods that can lead to torture. She reiterated Argentina’s staunch commitment to preventing torture.
The resolution was then approved without a vote.
While underscoring the topical nature and importance of the topic, the representative of the Russian Federation noted that the General Assembly “does not have the competence to interfere with treaty bodies’ working methods”, adding that operative paragraph 39 is a “statement of fact, not a recommendation of action”. He disassociated the Russian Federation from preambular paragraph 7 and operative paragraph 4 concerning the International Criminal Court and the Rome Statute, adding that his country does not share the draft’s “glowing assessment” of the Court. “We have already stated our views in detail, and the events of this past year have us given further grounds for pessimism,” he said.
The representative of the Philippines also disassociated from preambular paragraph 7 and operative paragraph 4, adding that her country does not recognize the Rome Statute’s jurisdiction, although it is committed to fighting torture and degrading punishment.
The Committee then turned to the subject of crime prevention and criminal justice and the draft resolution titled “Integrating sport into youth crime prevention and criminal justice strategies” (document A/C.3/74/L.2). The Secretary noted that approval of the draft resolution would not entail any additional budgetary implications relating to the regular programme budget.
The Committee then approved resolution “L.2” without a vote.
Next, the Committee turned to the draft resolution titled “Follow-up to the Thirteenth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice and preparations for the Fourteenth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice” (document A/C.3/74/L.3).
The Chair noted that there were no programme budget implications.
The Committee then approved resolution “L.3” without a vote.
The Committee then turned to the draft resolution titled “Education for Justice and the rule of law in the context of sustainable development” (document A/C.3/74/L.4).
The Chair noted that there were no programme budget implications.
The Committee then approved resolution “L.4” without a vote.
The Committee then turned to the draft resolution titled “Promoting technical assistance and capacity-building to strengthen national measures and international cooperation to combat cybercrime, including information-sharing” (document A/C.3/74/L.5).
The Chair noted that there were no programme budget implications.
The Committee then approved resolution “L.5” without a vote.
Next, the Committee turned to the draft resolution titled “Countering child sexual exploitation and sexual abuse online” (document A/C.3/74/L.6).
The Secretary noted that approval of the draft resolution would not entail any additional budgetary implications relating to the regular programme budget.
The Committee then approved resolution “L.6” without a vote.
The Committee then turned to the draft resolution titled “Technical assistance provided by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime related to counter-terrorism” (document A/C.3/74/L.7). The Secretary noted that approval of the draft resolution would not entail any additional budgetary implications relating to the regular programme budget.
The Committee then approved resolution “L.7” without a vote.
The Chair then noted that the draft resolution titled “Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic” was submitted on Wednesday, 30 October, shortly after the deadline for the submission of draft proposals.
The representative of Syria highlighted the legal and procedural position that his Mission expressed in letter 339, circulated to Member States on 31 October 2019. The United States and Saudi Arabia have breached the procedural rules governing the work of the General Assembly and the main Six Committees. The deadline for submission of draft proposals under the agenda item was 1 p.m. on 30 October 2019. Syria’s Mission has proven that the two delegations submitted this draft resolution at 4:33:52 p.m. on 30 October 2019. He expects the Bureau to ensure the smooth functioning of the Committee’s work based on the rules of procedure. The Committee thus should not consider the resolution or take any related action. Its work should be guided by the rules of procedure, the Charter of the United Nations and its own working documents.
The representative of the United States said she appreciated the Bureau’s decision to bring this matter forward today. She urged all countries to vote “yes” on the proposal before them to ensure that the matter is considered further. As the situation has global impact, “this text is important to many delegations across all regions,” she said, stressing that the international community is focused closely on this human-rights crisis. A good-faith misunderstanding led to the tabling of the resolution three and a half hours after the deadline. Not addressing people’s suffering due to a three-hour delay is unconscionable, she said. The decision is not about the merits or substance of the resolution but about fulfilling the Committee’s moral obligation to consider human-rights violations wherever they occur. “We should not permit procedural obfuscation to prevent our consideration of the resolution,” she said, urging all delegations to support consideration of the text.
The representative of Saudi Arabia quoted the Secretary-General at the sixth Istanbul Mediation Conference when he noted that “as the tragedy in Syria grinds on for the eighth year, civilians pay the highest price.” Syria’s attempts to block consideration of the draft on procedural grounds should be without prejudice to the content and substance of the draft resolution. This is an attempt by Syria to obstruct the work of the United Nations. Syria should have the courage to address the substance of the resolution and not use the pretext of procedural considerations. He called on Member States to reject such attempts at obstruction.
The representative of Iran requested that the discussion be kept at the procedural level. When the Committee agreed on its work programme on 2 October, it was done in good faith, based on consensus. Any alternation should be based on consensus. He expressed surprise to see this issue brought back to the Committee itself because it has already decided on its work programme. The Committee should not create risky precedents nor reopen the work programme, he said, equating that to opening Pandora’s box. As the draft was introduced after the deadline, he requested that it not be considered.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said the rules of procedure within the framework of all Committees should be fully respected and implemented by all Member States.
The representative of the United Kingdom said the conflict in Syria has been one of the most destructive of the twenty-first century.
The representative of Syria, speaking on a point of order, objected to attempts to address the substance of the draft proposal, stressing that the matter is purely procedural in nature.
The representative of the United Kingdom, resuming, said the Committee has rightly considered a resolution on the situation in Syria every year since the conflict began. He acknowledged there was a good-faith misunderstanding on the process, but the question is whether human rights in Syria merits this Committee’s consideration, and the answer is yes. “We need to put principle before procedure,” he insisted.
The representative of the Russian Federation expressed surprise that the matter has been brought before the Committee, particularly since discussion of a procedural issue is being used by some States to make politicized accusations about the situation in Syria. He expressed hope that a double-standards procedure will not be witnessed. One cannot introduce a resolution after the deadline.
The representative of Syria said he was not using pretexts, but rather relying on the United Nations Charter, the General Assembly rules of procedure and the Committee’s work programme “as a shield”. There is no legal basis in the Charter, the rules or the work programme that would allow for a vote on this procedural matter. “These moments are critical, decisive moments in the history of the United Nations,” he asserted.
The Chair said a recorded vote has been requested.
The representative of Finland, speaking for the European Union, said that since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, the Committee has consistently considered a resolution on this subject. “This Committee cannot turn a blind eye to what has become the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II,” he said. The representative of Argentina said he supported inclusion of a resolution on the situation in Syria, as has previously been the case.
The representative of Liechtenstein, also speaking for Australia, Canada, Norway, Iceland and others in explanation of vote before the vote, stressed the importance of respecting the timetable set out at the beginning of the session. He expressed disappointment that the tabling deadline was missed but stressed that the delay does not disrupt the Committee’s work. Nonetheless, he would not endorse the late tabling of resolutions as a regular practice.
The representative of Syria expressed his full opposition to calling a vote, which he said would be illegal. He requested that the meeting be suspended and a legal opinion on the procedural matter be sought. The Chair asked if he was moving under rule 118, to which the representative of Syria responded that he was moving was under rules 118 and 119. The Chair said that the motion shall be immediately put to a vote.
Following an exchange between the representative of the United States, who said that rule 128 applies since the Chair announced the Committee was moving to a vote on the procedural matter, and the representative of Syria, who disputed that assertion, the Chair reiterated that the voting had not commenced and that rule 119 states that the vote on the suspension has precedence.
The Committee then rejected the motion to suspend the meeting by a recorded vote of 88 against to 18 in favour, with 37 abstentions.
In another lengthy exchange, in which the representative of Colombia said procedures cannot be used as an excuse during such a serious matter as human rights in Syria, and the representative of Syria argued that rule 123 applies and urged the Chair to seek a legal opinion regarding the reopening of the Committee’s work programme — a point on which the representative of Iran agreed there was no consensus — the Chair ultimately decided that rule 123 does not apply in this situation.
Following further requests by the representative of Syria to seek a legal opinion by the Secretary-General’s legal counsel, and by the representatives of the Russian Federation and China to clarify both what the Committee would vote on and which rules of procedure are currently governing the situation, the Chair replied that the Committee is voting on whether to consider the draft resolution on the human-rights situation in Syria during the Assembly’s seventy-fourth session.
The representative of Syria characterized the Chair’s ruling as “unrealistic and illegal”, stressing instead that the Committee is voting on reopening its work programme, and, following a plea by the representative of Saudi Arabia to end the “never-ending procrastination”, said the Chair appears to think this is a legally legitimate process. The representative of Algeria asked whether that work programme can be reopened or not.
Responding to these comments, the Chair said there was precedent for this on situation. As far as opening the work programme, he read out what was gaveled at start, with the Committee approving its programme “with further adjustments to be made as necessary” as the programme progresses. He requested that the Committee proceed to the vote.
The representative of Syria disputed this characterization and said the Committee is now discussing whether it agrees on the breach in the work programme. The United States and Saudi Arabia submitted a draft resolution after the deadline, which is why “[rule] 123 is the rule that applies here.” Amendments should be made at the right time, not after the deadline. The Chair responded that the work programme is not being changed, and that the Committee can consider the acceptance of the draft resolution, to which the representatives of Iran and the Russian Federation asserted that rule 123 does in fact apply and requested the Chair to explain why it does not.
The Chair said that rule 123 does not apply and the Committee shall proceed to the vote. The representative of Syria then challenged the Chair’s ruling and requested a legal opinion by the Secretary-General’s legal counsel. The Chair said that, in accordance with rule 113, the appeal against the Chair’s ruling will be immediately put to a vote.
The Committee rejected the appeal against the Chair’s ruling by a recorded vote of 89 against to 13 in favour, with 36 abstentions.
The Committee then approved the consideration of the draft resolution during the seventy-fourth session by a recorded vote of 91 in favour to 19 against, with 40 abstentions.
The representative of Iran asked the Chair to explain why rule 123 does not apply to this situation.
The representative of Syria expressed regret over how matters unfolded in the Committee. The situation clearly required no vote and no explanation whatsoever. He had relied on a “courageous and wise” stand from the Chair and the Bureau, which ought to have rejected consideration of this draft resolution.
The representative of Algeria, speaking in explanation of vote after the vote, said his delegation voted against consideration of the draft resolution because it was against the rules of procedure, as the draft was submitted late. “We should avoid setting unfortunate precedents,” he stressed.