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Seventy-fifth Session,
6th Meeting (PM)

Pandemic That ‘Knows No Borders’ Pushed Millions into Poverty, Delegates Stress, as Third Committee Concludes Social Development Debate amid Calls for Unity

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) concluded its debate on social development today, with delegates drawing attention to the world’s lack of preparedness for COVID-19, a challenge that has exacerbated inequalities between and within countries, raising human rights concerns.

Speaking to that point, Bolivia’s representative said 30 million people in Latin America have newly entered into poverty, affecting those already in fragile situations — the elderly, people deprived of liberty, migrants, women and children, among them.  He described Bolivia’s policies to improve the lives of indigenous peoples, with efforts to preserve their culture and languages, noting that quarantine measures have worsened their access to information on COVID-19 prevention and treatment.

“The pandemic knows no borders,” said Libya’s representative, underlining the particularly devastating effects of COVID-19 on poor countries and those mired in conflict.  Noting the pandemic has hit developing countries especially hard, Côte d’Ivoire’s representative said he looks forward to the World Health Organization (WHO) accelerating access to vaccines, when they exist.  Similarly, Zimbabwe’s representative said­­ “no country can fight the pandemic single-handedly,” as he welcomed collective efforts to address the crisis.

While there were several calls for universality and non-selectivity in the protection of human rights, delegates offered different paths forward for blunting the impact of the virus on social development.  The representative of the Solomon Islands outlined measures to improve women’s rights, citing a recent programme to expand access to financial services.  Portugal’s representative strongly condemned reprisals against human rights defenders and roundly opposed the death penalty, as it “undermines dignity and has no deterrent effect”. Instead, he expressed support for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  Kyrgyzstan’s representative, meanwhile, advocated efficiency among the United Nations treaty bodies.  She also focused on migration, as almost one fifth of her country’s working population today are labour migrants.

At times, the human rights conditions in some countries overshadowed the COVID-19 focus, with Yemen’s representative recalling the Iran-supported coup d’état by the Houthi militia as “the reason for the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world”.  The militia killed, tortured and carried out violent attacks that led to the disappearance of more than 1,000 civilians.  The group recruited 30,000 children, he said, also pointing to the 1 million mines laid that will impact women and children for decades.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 9 October, to continue its interactive dialogues.

General Debate

As the Committee concluded its debate, delegates described their efforts to address challenges to their social development, exacerbated by the pandemic.

The representative of Côte d’Ivoire, associating with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China and the African Group, welcomed the adoption of the omnibus resolution on the comprehensive and coordinated response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), observing that the pandemic has hit developing countries especially hard.  He looked forward to the WHO Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator speeding up access to vaccines, when they exist.  Côte d’Ivoire is committed to reducing social equalities, especially between the sexes.  It has strengthened its national social protection programme, enhancing access to social services and implementing programmes for women, and has made improvements to laws on inheritance marriage.  Attending school has been made compulsory under its constitution.  It has effectuated literacy gains and reduced cases of female genital mutilation.  He called on States to support Côte d’Ivoire’s candidacy in the Human Rights Council, which is endorsed by the African Union.

The representative of Bolivia drew attention to the world's unpreparedness in the face of COVID-19, pointing out that 30 million people in Latin America have entered into poverty.  He described Bolivia’s public policies to improve the lives of the most vulnerable — especially indigenous peoples, with efforts to preserve their culture and languages — and noted that the quarantine has worsened their access to information on COVID-19 prevention and treatment.

Several speakers, including the representatives of Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Yemen, said women’s rights must be promoted, affirming their commitment to building on the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.  However, Yemen’s representative said women are being “blackmailed” in areas controlled by Houthi militias.  The coup d’état, with support from Iran, has led to the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world”, resulting in widespread killings, torture and displacement.  The violence has not spared women, children and journalists.  As many as 1 million mines laid down by Houthi militias will “impact women and children for decades”.  Nonetheless, Yemen has formed a national commission to support women’s rights and guarantees 37 per cent of political posts to women.  The militia continues to abduct civilians, he said, calling on the international community to bring this violence to an end.

Meanwhile, the representative of Zimbabwe demanded the immediate lifting of unilateral coercive measures imposed on his country and others, stressing that they impeded access to medicine and had a devastating impact on the lives of children.  Despite the “difficult and peculiar circumstances”, he welcomed international collective efforts to combat the pandemic, informed by public health needs.  “No country can fight the pandemic single-handedly,” he stressed.  Zimbabwe is taking measures to promote the rights of persons with disabilities, and ratified both the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The representative of Portugal, aligning with the European Union, reaffirmed his commitment to ensuring the promotion of civil, cultural, political, and social rights.  In this respect, all 27 Member States of the European Union are united.  He reiterated his support for the work and independence of the OHCHR and called on all States to support the special procedures of the Human Rights Council.  “They are our crown jewels, and our eyes and ears,” he stressed, strongly condemning reprisals against human rights defenders.  Portugal has guaranteed foreign citizens whose status is not yet regularized access to public services, and the ability to open bank accounts, sign leases and take on employment.  Noting that his country opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, as it “undermines dignity and has no deterrent effect”, he called on countries that had not yet abolished it to initiate a moratorium on its use.

The representative of Solomon Islands, associating with the Group of 77, called for “universality and non-selectivity” in the protection of human rights, adding that it must be based on cooperation and dialogue.  She outlined measures taken to ameliorate the rights of women, including a recent programme designed to improve their access to financial services, sparked by the finding that only 21 per cent of women had access to bank accounts.

The representative of Kyrgyzstan condemned any forms of discrimination, attaching importance to promoting human rights and the rule of law, and recommending greater efficiency within the treaty body system.  She named migration as a priority area in Kyrgyzstan’s domestic and foreign policies, as labour migrants comprise almost one fifth of the working population.  She urged States to join the United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, describing the protection of refugees as an important part of the migration policy and citing statelessness as another priority focus.

The representative of Serbia said that as a multi-ethnic country, Serbia gives special attention to the rights of minorities, especially to use minority language and script, as well as the rights to education, employment and participation in political life.  The country is open to cooperation with all United Nations human rights mechanisms.  For more than two decades, Serbia has drawn attention to the problems encountered by the non-Albanian population in the southern province of Kosovo and Metohija.  Yet even 20 years after the arrival of the international presence, the physical security, respect and protection of human rights, especially of minority communities, are far from satisfactory.  Secure conditions still have not been created for the sustainable return of more than 200,000 internally displaced persons.

The representative of the Bahamas said the negative and indirect effects of climate change continue to impact a range of human rights in this island community.  To expand human rights, the Bahamas has established a virtual school and expanded unemployment benefits and self-assistance programmes to strengthen food security.  The Government is committed to a strategy of reducing crime and increasing police accountability and transparency, as well as working to reduce racism.

The representative of Timor-Leste, aligning with the Group of 77 and the Non-Aligned Movement, said the Government is committed to inclusive participation for all people, working in particular to guarantee the rights of children and advance the status of women.  Youth make up more than 20 per cent of the population and it is important to provide educational and employment opportunities for them.  Vocational training is essential and a training facility in the capital provides training for people with disabilities.

The representative of Panama, endorsing the statement by the Group of 77, said the international community has faced an unprecedented test in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic and the severe economic crisis.  Panama has worked closely with the United Nations, including WHO, to be sure it can prevent and reduce the spread of the virus.  Noting that the Panama Canal was kept open to benefit world trade, he said the Government also helped those ships traveling its waters that were carrying passengers suffering from COVID-19.

The Permanent Observer for the League of Arab States said the League works constantly to complement the work of the United Nations in the Arab World, including efforts to empower women.  During a year in which the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action and the twentieth anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) are being recognized, it is focused on ensuring the effective participation of women in all areas, notably in building peace in post-conflict regions.  In a multilateral world, the diversity of civilizations and cultures should be recognized as approaches are developed to handle human rights issues.

The Permanent Observer of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the pandemic has particularly exacerbated problems for people with underlying health conditions, those deprived of their liberty and living in close quarters, those without access to health care and people living in areas with armed conflict for whom humanitarian assistance is critical and must be accessible.

Also speaking were the representatives of Brunei, Bahrain, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Libya, Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Morocco.

For information media. Not an official record.