Third Committee Approves 11 Drafts, among Them 4 Covering Women’s Rights, Omnibus Text on High Commissioner for Refugees Report, as Myriad Amendments Fail to Pass
In a day of intense action, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) approved 11 draft resolutions, including 4 on the broad theme of the advancement of women, which touched on the special needs of women and girls living in conflict-affected areas, complex humanitarian emergencies and terrorism.
Among them was a draft — approved by a recorded vote of 170 in favour to none against, with 11 abstentions — on preventing and eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls. By its terms, the Assembly would urge States to take effective action to eliminate all such violence and to address structural and underlying causes and risk factors.
Its passage weathered unyielding attempts to pass seven draft amendments, proposed by the Russian Federation, and three proposed by the United States, to address wording concerns. Each of the measures failed in recorded votes.
The representative of the Netherlands, presenting the draft resolution, highlighted the dramatic increase in violence against women and girls during the COVID‑19 pandemic. The draft expresses an unambiguous condemnation of violence, and presents a global compromise, based on agreed language. “We all had to compromise,” he said, rejecting the proposed amendments as hostile. Echoing those concerns, the United Kingdom’s representative rejected the amendments, several of which sought to weaken language on sexual and reproductive rights. South Africa’s delegate likewise said the proposed amendments contradict the principle of multilateralism. Terms, such as “sexual and reproductive health”, were agreed upon in the 1990s. Meanwhile, Egypt’s representative expressed support for amendment “L.59”, stressing that the concept of “intimate partner violence” remains unclear and lacks an internationally agreed definition.
In other action, the Committee approved its omnibus draft resolution on the report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), by a recorded vote of 174 in favour to none against, with 7 abstentions (Cameroon, Eritrea, Hungary, Iran, Libya, Poland, Syria). By its terms, the Assembly would urge States to uphold the civilian and humanitarian character of refugee camps and settlements. It would also call on those that have not yet contributed to burden- and responsibility-sharing to do so, with a view to broadening the support base.
Several delegates, including from the United Kingdom and Portugal, on behalf of a group of countries, expressed regret over the call for a vote on a purely humanitarian text. Norway’s representative, presenting the text on behalf of the Nordic countries, said it represents a technical rollover of the one approved in 2019. Due to COVID‑19, and following the Third Committee bureau’s guidance, no substantial negotiations were held.
Syria’s delegate, however, called for a vote, explaining that his delegation would abstain, as amendments to the draft’s substance submitted by Syria and Iran were never entertained. Syria had suggested negotiating in New York on several occasions in hopes of reaching a balanced text. “There was no response to our calls,” he stressed.
More broadly, the Committee approved several drafts without a vote, among them a draft on literacy, by which the Assembly would urge Governments to cooperate in ensuring that sufficient funds are channelled through existing international financing mechanisms for education — including during the COVID‑19 pandemic — and that they also explicitly target and benefit youth and adult literacy.
Among other drafts approved by consensus was one on human rights and extreme poverty, by which the Assembly would call on Member States to design COVID‑19 recovery strategies and implement gender-responsive social protection and fiscal policies that promote gender equality.
Also approved today were draft resolutions on: trafficking in women and girls; child, early and forced marriage; the human rights treaty body system; the world drug problem; obstetric fistula; female genital mutilation; and protecting children from bullying.
The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 17 November, to continue its work.
Launching the day, the Committee took up the draft resolution titled “Trafficking in women and girls” (document A/C.3/75/L.14).
The representative of the Philippines, presenting the draft resolution, said human trafficking robs women and girls of their dignity in the most heinous way, which is why the Philippines applies the full force of law against human traffickers. Her country added a new paragraph on the impact of COVID‑19 on human trafficking. Online sexual exploitation has significantly increased as a result of lockdowns and restrictions imposed by authorities. However, considering the many challenges of the online platform of the meetings, the Philippines decided to introduce only technical and minor updates to the resolution. She expressed regret over the amendment to operative paragraph 31, which reflects agreed and delicately crafted language. References to sexual and reproductive health‑care services do not necessarily include abortion, she stressed, calling for a victim-centred approach.
The representative of the United States presented amendment “L.68”, which would delete the words “including sexual and reproductive health‑care services” from operative paragraph 31.
The representative of Germany, speaking on behalf of the European Union, objected to the amendment, stressing that the reference to sexual and reproductive health‑care services is based on long-agreed language and that trafficking of women and girls has increased during the COVID‑19 pandemic. The European Union will vote against this amendment, he said, urging all States to do the same.
The representative of Argentina, on behalf of a cross-regional group of countries, expressed surprise over the proposed amendments, as they seek to modify agreed language that stems from the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development. She called for universal access to health‑care services, expressing regret that delegations are forced to vote on this issue and urging Member States to vote against the amendment.
The Committee then rejected draft amendment “L.68”, by a recorded vote of 120 against to 9 in favour (Libya, Nauru, Palau, Qatar, Russian Federation, Sudan, Syria, Tonga, United States), with 28 abstentions.
The representative of Hungary, stressing the importance of protecting victims and prosecuting perpetrators, disassociated from preambular paragraph 10, underscoring that the causes of migration should be addressed nationally.
The representative of the United States called for an effective implementation of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Traffickers have exploited COVID‑19 restrictions for profit, he said, highlighting the vulnerability of women and girls during the pandemic. He disassociated from operative paragraph 31 of the draft resolution as the United States cannot accept references to sexual and reproduction health and health‑care services — or any similar language that would promote abortion or recognize the right to abortion. “We do not recognize abortion as a method of family planning,” he said, noting that “there is no international right to abortion.” Regarding references to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the International Criminal Court, he referred to the United States statement delivered on 13 November, stressing that the United States disassociates from preambular paragraph 10 and does not accept the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and objects to such references in the draft. He also opposed the term “child prostitution” and called for its substitution with the term “child trafficking”.
The Committee approved the draft resolution on “Trafficking in women and girls”. By its terms, the Assembly would urge States that have not yet done so to consider ratifying or acceding to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.
Among other terms, the Assembly would call on Governments to intensify their efforts to prevent and address, with a view to eliminating, the demand that fosters the trafficking of women and girls, and to put in place or to enhance preventive measures — including legislative and punitive measures — to deter exploiters of trafficked persons, as well as to ensure their accountability.
The representative of the Russian Federation said she was not convinced that the International Criminal Court represents the appropriate instrument for exercising justice, even if the crimes stipulated in the draft resolution could hypothetically fall under its jurisdiction. The Court must restore its own authority and refrain from a policy of double standards and politicized investigations, he stressed, rejecting the wording in preambular paragraph 16 about the Rome Statute and disassociating from consensus on this paragraph.
The representative of Qatar said her country views operative paragraph 31 from the perspective of national laws and in accordance with its traditions.
The representative of Iraq disassociated from preambular paragraph 16.
The Committee then took up the draft resolution titled “Child, early and forced marriage” (document A/C.3/75/L.18/Rev.1), which contained no programme budget implications.
The representative of Zambia, introducing the draft, said child, early and forced marriage constituted a grave abuse of human rights. Unfortunately, COVID‑19 has impeded progress towards eliminating this problem, he said, citing an “extremely concerning” finding in a report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), suggesting that the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic would likely generate 13 million additional cases of forced marriage by 2030. “We can’t afford to see hard-won progress set back,” he said. The draft proposed by Zambia and Canada has the support of a cross-regional group of countries, and is a strong, balanced text reached through extensive, transparent negotiations. It contains language concerning the impact of the pandemic on efforts to end harmful practices affecting children, particularly girls, as well as proposals to eliminate such behaviour. Negotiations took place in a “collegial” manner. “Therefore, we are disappointed that some delegations decided to table amendments, which compromises the integrity of principles underlying negotiations,” he said, urging that the draft be approved by consensus.
The representative of the Russian Federation, introducing amendments “L.77” through “L.83”, said she is disappointed by the reluctance of those who drafted the text to consider her delegation’s “numerous concerns”, thereby forcing her to submit several amendments.
On amendment “L.77”, she said it proposes changes related to the COVID‑19 pandemic in preambular paragraph 26.
On amendment “L.78”, she said it replaces the words “humanitarian situations” with the words “humanitarian emergencies” in preambular paragraph 27 and removes the “non-factual list of risks faced by girls because of the pandemic”, including female genital mutilation and obstetric fistula.
On amendment “L.79”, she said it proposes changes to operative paragraph 22, aligning “new unagreed passages” with consensus language from the 2030 Agenda.
On amendment “L.80”, she said it proposes changes to operative paragraph 23, on measures to be taken against the pandemic, which aim to replace terminology in it with terms mentioned in previous agreements.
Turning to amendment “L.81”, she said it aims to clarify “clear inconsistences” in references to children and adolescents in operative paragraph 23(a), by deleting the words “and adolescents”. “Adolescents are also children,” she stressed.
Meanwhile, amendment “L.82” seeks to delete a reference to marginalized people from operative paragraph 23(c), she said.
On amendment “L.83”, she said it aims to change vague references to humanitarian settings to “humanitarian emergencies” in operative paragraphs 21, 23(f) and 26.
“These are far from the full list of amendments we would like to be made to the draft,” she said. “But due to the circumstances, we chose to focus on the most problematic passages in the new paragraphs introduced in the text.”
The representative of the United States, introducing amendment “L.84”, said it proposes alternate language preferred by his country on sexual and reproductive health, contained in many parts of the text, including in operative paragraphs 18 and 23(a). The United States’ views on this are “well known”, he stressed.
The representative of Canada said he was confident in the quality of the negotiation process, since 114 co-sponsors had chosen to support it. He expressed deep regret over the many amendments proposed on language that has “long enjoyed consensus”. Through multiple bilateral consultations, Canada and Zambia made considerable efforts to accommodate other delegations’ concerns and made an “extensive range of deletions” to the text. Most proposed changes did not enjoy wide support, he said, adding that it is unfortunate that this same “unfair” pattern of “negotiation by amendment” has been witnessed in other drafts. “It suggests that it is not the text under consideration that is the problem,” he said. The changes proposed by the United States would be “irresponsible” to make, given that negative outcomes related to provisioning of reproductive and sexual health‑care services are the leading cause of death of girls aged between 15 and 19 worldwide. Therefore, Canada is voting against all proposed amendments, and calls on other States to do so.
The representative of Germany, speaking on behalf of the European Union, welcomed the fair, inclusive consultations by facilitators in which all delegations, including the United States and the Russian Federation, had participated. While no delegation is pleased with the outcome, pushing for changes is not fair to others who accepted compromises, and it undermines the principles of diplomacy, she said. She expressed concern over the numerous attempts made to weaken human rights language in the text, as well as its scope. In particular, she took issue with the proposed change to operative paragraph 23, which would replace the word “victim” with the word “people”, which “would send a negative signal to all girls, who are subjected to harmful practices,” she said, adding that she would oppose all amendments.
The representative of Costa Rica, speaking on behalf of a large cross‑regional group of countries, expressed regret about the approach of proposing multiple amendments, which goes against the Committee’s working methods as well as the principles of multilateralism. Language in the text pertaining to health-care services is long agreed upon and must be recognized as striking a balance to accommodate different views on the scope of health‑care needs. Moreover, terms such as sexual and reproductive health‑care services have been used since the 1990s and encompass a wide range of positions. Such attempts to undermine the normative framework underpinning the Committee’s work is “deeply unfortunate”. Costa Rica will vote against the amendments and she urged all delegates to vote against them as well.
The representative of the United Kingdom welcomed the new parts of the text, which outline the devastating impact of the pandemic, and said he supported national and international efforts to create inclusive societies for everyone, regardless of their marital status. He expressed deep disappointment with the Russian Federation’s proposed changes, which are “highly disruptive and undermine work done to achieve consensus”. He also expressed regret over the amendment proposed by the United States, which touches on consensus language used by the Committee and other United Nations bodies for many years. Any attempt to reduce access to health‑care services to girls, including family planning services, would be detrimental to their health, educational access and life choices, he said.
The representative of Argentina, aligning with the statement made by Costa Rica, said the draft provides alarming figures for child, early and forced marriage, which could have been avoided by 2030. She expressed regret about the last-minute amendments aimed at weakening consensus that was built years ago and are unjust to those who participated in negotiations in good faith. It also sets a bad precedent, she said, adding that she will vote against the amendments and encourages other States to do so. “We cannot accept language that restricts the rights of women and girls,” she stressed.
The Committee then took up the draft amendment “L.77”, which it proceeded to reject by a recorded vote of 109 against to 20 in favour, with 31 abstentions.
The Committee then turned to the draft amendment “L.78”, which proposed changes to preambular paragraph 27, rejecting it by a recorded vote of 111 against to 21 in favour, with 29 abstentions.
The Committee then took up draft amendment “L.79”, which proposed changes to operative paragraph 22, rejecting it by a recorded vote of 105 against to 26 in favour, with 30 abstentions.
The Committee then took up draft amendment “L.80”, which proposed to amend operative paragraph 23. It rejected the draft amendment by a recorded vote of 101 against to 29 in favour, with 34 abstentions.
The Committee then turned to draft amendment “L.81”, which it rejected by a recorded vote of 110 against to 19 in favour, with 31 abstentions.
The Committee then rejected draft amendment “L.82”, which proposed changes to operative paragraph 23(c), by a recorded vote of 108 against to 23 in favour, with 31 abstentions.
The Committee then rejected draft amendment “L.83”, which proposed changes to operative paragraphs 21, 23(f), and 26, by a recorded vote of 103 against to 24 in favour, with 37 abstentions.
The Committee then rejected draft amendment “L.84”, which proposed changes to preambular paragraph 23 and operative paragraphs 14, 17, 18, and 23(f), by a recorded vote of 121 against to 11 in favour, with 32 abstentions.
The Committee then approved draft resolution “L.18/Rev.1”, on “Child, early and forced marriage”, without a vote.
By its terms, the Assembly would urge Governments to respect the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, through the development and enforcement of policies and legal frameworks and the strengthening of health systems, including health information systems, that make universally accessible and available quality, gender-responsive, adolescent-friendly health services, and sexual and reproductive health‑care services.
By other terms, it would note with concern that child, early and forced marriage disproportionally affects girls who have received little or no formal education, and is itself a significant obstacle to educational opportunities and the development of employable skills for girls and young women — in particular, girls who are forced to drop out of school owing to pregnancy, marriage, childbirth and/or childcare responsibilities.
The representative of Germany, speaking on behalf of the European Union in explanation of vote, said girls, especially those who are marginalized, are disproportionately affected by the secondary impact of the pandemic. Their exposure to harmful practices is of serious concern. In the context of the pandemic, girls face a “double jeopardy”, which sets back hard-won progress in achieving gender equality. She welcomed the action-oriented sections of the text, and its strong human rights focus, as well as its inclusion of proposed additions, which pertain to menstrual hygiene and domestic violence.
The representative of the Russian Federation said her country did not break consensus and is committed to its obligations to eliminate child marriage. “However, this important subject is getting contentious due to a group of countries that stuff it with their politicized approaches,” she stressed, adding that her main concerns were ignored by the authors of the draft. She expressed regret that mutually respectful dialogue was not possible, adding that she is therefore forced to disassociate from preambular paragraphs 26 and 27, as well as operative paragraphs 21, 22, 26, and 23, including sections (a) to (g). The Russian Federation is not bound by the provisions it disassociates from and does not see them as agreed-upon language in future negotiations.
The representative of the United States said he disassociates from preambular paragraph 23, as well as operative paragraphs 14, 17, 18, and 23(f), because of its concerns about phrasing related to reproductive health‑care services. The United States fully supports voluntary choice but does not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, he said.
The representative of Guatemala said child marriage is a harmful violation of human rights, and noted that her country has reproductive policies, but does not guarantee reproductive rights, nor the right to abortion, which contravenes the legislation of Guatemala.
The representative of Qatar, likewise, said any mention of sexual and reproductive health‑care services in the text must be understood to adhere to the country’s tradition and values.
Meanwhile, the representative of Egypt said she wished to co-sponsor the draft resolution, but that any mention of sexual and reproductive health‑care services must be understood to adhere to the country’s traditions and values.
The representative of Iraq joined consensus on the draft, in compliance with its national laws and resolutions.
An observer for the Holy See expressed disappointment about the “inordinate focus on issues that polarize debate” and stated his reservation with two concepts used in the draft: References to sexual and reproductive health‑care services must not be understood to include access to abortion, and references to gender must be understood to apply to biological difference.
The Committee then took up the draft resolution titled “Human rights treaty body system” (A/C.3/75/L.39), which was introduced by the representative of Iceland, on behalf of Belgium and Slovenia. The text is similar to that adopted two years ago as Assembly resolution 73/162 and contains three notable changes.
The Committee then approved draft resolution “L.39” without a vote.
By its terms, the Assembly would recognize the valuable role of each of the human rights treaty bodies in the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. It would reaffirm the paramount importance of the equality of the six official languages of the United Nations for the effective functioning of the human rights treaty bodies. The Assembly would reiterate its request that the Secretary‑General submit to the General Assembly at its seventy-seventh session a report on the status of the human rights treaty body system.
The representative of Japan said his country attaches great importance to strengthening the human rights treaty system while avoiding unnecessary duplication. It is important to optimize existing resources, which should be provided to the treaty bodies according to resolution 668/268, he said, calling on Member States to actively strengthen the treaty body system.
The Committee then turned to the draft resolution “International cooperation to address and counter the world drug problem” (document A/C.3/75/L.10/Rev.1).
The representative of Mexico, introducing the omnibus draft, said the issues addressed by the text affect all countries, and that the current version presents technical updates reflecting developments within the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Mexico would like to strengthen links between specialized bodies in Vienna and discussion within United Nations Headquarters. “The pandemic can generate new trends and dynamics in the global drug problem,” he warned the Committee, adding that the draft calls for all States to promote a substantive exchange of information related to best practices to counter the global drug problem.
The Committee then adopted “L.10/Rev.1” without a vote.
By its terms, the Assembly would reiterate its call on Member States to attain the goals and targets set out in the Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem, adopted at its sixty-fourth session. Further, it would call on Member States to engage in cooperation aimed at countering the world drug problem on the principle of common and shared responsibility, urging them to ensure non-discriminatory access to health care and social services in prevention, primary care and treatment programmes.
The representative of the United States, delivering an explanation of vote, disassociated from operative paragraph 81, stressing that Washington, D.C., submitted a notice of withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO). He further disassociated from operative paragraph 109 because the text ignores consensus in Vienna and undermines the treaty-mandated obligations of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.
The Committee then took up the draft resolution titled “Literacy for life: shaping future agendas” (document A/C.3/75/L.12/Rev.1), which contained no programme budget implications.
The representative of Mongolia, introducing the draft resolution, described literacy as a building block for achieving human rights. It is crucial to promote literacy as an integral part of the right to education, she said, noting that new elements of the draft reflect the progress made in literacy. However, the outbreak of COVID‑19 has forced schools to close in more than 190 countries, affecting 90 per cent of the world’s students. Many non-literate people have been the hardest hit by the economic, social and educational impact of the pandemic, she added.
The Committee then approved draft resolution “L.12/Rev.1” without a vote.
By its terms, the Assembly would urge international development partners and Governments to cooperate in ensuring that sufficient and sustainable funds are mobilized by and channelled through existing international financing mechanisms for education — including during the COVID‑19 pandemic — and that they also explicitly target and benefit youth and adult literacy. It also would call on States to implement the 2030 Agenda, including all literacy-related Sustainable Development Goals and targets.
The representative of the United States underscored that the 2030 Agenda is non-binding and does not create rights or obligations under international law, nor does it create any new financial commitments. The United States recognizes the 2030 Agenda as a global framework for sustainable development that can help countries to work towards global peace and prosperity. He welcomed the call for shared responsibility, including national responsibility in the 2030 Agenda, emphasizing that all countries have a role to play in achieving its vision.
Next, the Committee took up the draft “Intensification of efforts to end obstetric fistula” (document A/C.3/75/L.17).
The representative of Senegal, speaking on behalf of the African Group, introduced the draft noting that Secretary‑General’s reports on the rights of women are a clear representation of the urgent need for action. Citing the health consequences of obstetric fistula, he said the condition mainly affects women in underdeveloped communities. He underscored that the draft has always been adopted by consensus and noted that the current version presents technical updates. As such, he regretted the late submission of amendments and called on Member States to vote against the proposed changes.
The representative of the United States introduced amendments “L.73” and “L.86”, stating that they would replace language on “sexual and reproductive health” and remove references to UNFPA and WHO. He said the amendments were tabled within the deadline, and the claim that they were last-minute submissions was inaccurate.
The representative of Denmark, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, voiced regret that the amendments would modify agreed-upon language on the scope of women’s health needs. Acknowledging that sexual and reproductive health could be controversial issues, she noted that through the 2030 Agenda, States committed themselves to advancing reproductive health rights.
The representative of Germany, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said it goes against the practice of the Committee to present an amendment to a rollover draft. She called for a redoubling of efforts to enhance sexual and reproductive rights, especially as resources for such initiatives have been diverted to address the COVID‑19 pandemic.
The representative of Senegal said the African Group decided to submit a technical update on the draft that was duly communicated to Member States. He expressed regret that one delegation presented multiple amendments and that those proposed changes had not been presented earlier in the process.
The Committee then decided by a recorded vote of 141 against to 6 in favour (Belarus, Nauru, Qatar, Russian Federation, Tonga, United States), with 18 abstentions, to reject amendment “L.73”.
By a recorded vote of 153 against to 1 in favour (United States), with 11 abstentions, the Committee also rejected amendment “L.86”.
The Committee then approved draft resolution “L.17” as a whole without a vote. Through its terms, the Assembly would stress the need to address — as causes of obstetric fistula — the links between poverty, lack of or inadequate education, gender inequality, lack of or inadequate access to health‑care services, including sexual and reproductive health‑care services, early childbearing and child, early and forced marriage. The Assembly would also request the Campaign to End Fistula to develop a road map for accelerating action to end obstetric fistula within a decade, towards achieving the 2030 Agenda.
The representative of Guatemala, delivering an explanation of vote after action on “L.17”, said she joined consensus on the draft because it underscores the link between poverty and inadequate access to health services for women. She expressed reservations related to operative paragraph 3, as issues of reproductive rights could be misinterpreted.
The representative of the United States said untreated fistula can have devastating effects on women and that his country funds related projects that have helped thousands of women. He expressed regret that the two amendments were rejected, and disassociated from preambular paragraph 9 and operative paragraphs 2 and 3. “There is no international right to abortion,” he said, adding that the draft must not single out specific organizations, and rather, refer to broader relevant partners.
The representative of Sudan said that, despite her delegation’s sponsorship of the draft, she believes that States have the sovereign right to implement policies consistent with their national legislation.
The Committee then took up the draft resolution titled “Human rights and extreme poverty” (document A/C.3/75/L.43/Rev.1), which contained no programme budget implications.
The Committee approved draft resolution “L.43/Rev.1” without a vote.
By the text, the Assembly would emphasize that extreme poverty is a major issue to be addressed by Governments, the United Nations, international financial institutions, the private sector, civil society and community-based social organizations. It would reaffirm that political commitment is a prerequisite for the eradication of poverty. Further, it would call on Member States to design recovery strategies based on risk-informed, sustainable financing policies, supported by integrated national financing frameworks in accordance with the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development. It would also call on States to implement gender-responsive social protection policies, as well as fiscal policies that promote gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.
The representative of the United States welcomed references to persons with disabilities, calling for a more inclusive approach to development. This is particularly important as persons with disabilities are more likely to experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes, which impact their access to health care, education and employment. He further welcomed the integration of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in preambular paragraph 22 and operative paragraph 4. Opposing the assertion in preambular paragraph 22 that extreme poverty may amount to a threat to the right to life, he cited article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits arbitrary deprivation of life by State actors.
The representative of Somalia raised a point of clarification. Recalling the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, he clarified that Somalia is not a signatory to a statement on the human rights situation in Belarus. In New York and Geneva, and as a Human Rights Council member and country that advances human rights, Somalia disassociates from that statement.
The Committee then took up the draft resolution titled, “Intensification of efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls” (document A/C.3/75/L.19/Rev.1), which the Chair noted had no programme budget implications.
The representative of the Netherlands, presenting the draft, highlighted the dramatic increase in violence against women and girls during the COVID‑19 pandemic. The draft expresses an unambiguous condemnation of violence, proposing measures to strengthen collective action. It presents a global compromise, based on agreed language, including on the so‑called sensitive issues. “We all had to compromise,” he said, noting that the text represents delicate balance and inviting all Member States to reject the hostile amendments presented.
The representative of the Russian Federation, introducing amendments “L.59” through “L.65”, turned first to “L.59”, which concerns preambular paragraph 16 and the phrasing “including intimate partner violence” that was not discussed during negotiations. Amendment “L.60” seeks to address inconsistencies in the wording of preambular paragraph 28 related to paid work for girls. Amendment “L.61” concerns operative paragraph 6 (b) and proposes that after the word “girls”, to add the words “with appropriate direction and guidance from parents or legal guardians”. Amendment “L.62” opposes the term “femicide” which is not widespread. On the basis of previously agreed language, the Russian Federation proposes to replace the words “including femicide” with the words “also known as femicide in certain regions of the world”. Amendment “L.63” proposes to delete operative paragraph 11. Amendment “L.64” opposes the language of operative paragraph 13. The focus of amendment “L.65” is on operative paragraph 17, he said, suggesting to replace the words “taking into account their diverse situations and conditions” with the phrase “while respecting their diverse situations and conditions”. The amendments balance and improve the document, she said, calling on States to support them.
The representative of the United States presented amendments “L.69” through “L.71”, explaining that “L.69” concerns the final preambular paragraph and proposes to replace the words “essential health services” with the words “responsive interventions to meet their health needs”. Amendment “L.70” proposed to delete operative paragraph 15. Amendment “L.71” focuses on operative paragraph 6 (i), proposing to replace the words “comprehensive education that is relevant to cultural contexts” with the “culturally sensitive, health‑focused sex education” and after the words “reproductive health” add “in accordance with national legislation and programmes”.
The representative of the United Kingdom welcomed the draft resolution’s focus on gender‑based violence during the pandemic. She expressed deep disappointment to see multiple amendments seeking to weaken language on sexual and reproductive rights. Opposing the efforts to modify previously agreed language, she rejected the amendments and encouraged all other States to do the same.
The representative of South Africa, also speaking for several other countries, said the proposed amendments contradict the principle of multilateralism and long‑standing agreed language. Terminology, such as “sexual and reproductive health”, was agreed upon in the mid‑1990s. She expressed regret that Member States have been forced to vote and urged delegations to reject the amendments.
The representative of Egypt, commenting on amendment “L.59”, said the concept of intimate partner violence remains unclear and not internationally agreed upon. Many countries disassociated from this paragraph during the adoption of the resolution during the Assembly’s seventy‑first session, she recalled, expressing surprise to see the concept return during the current session. Egypt will vote in favour of the amendment. On amendment “L.62”, Egypt does not support the change in agreed language, and thus, will vote in favour of the presented amendment. On “L.70”, she said Egypt has consistently disassociated from operative paragraph 15 and will vote in favour of the amendment.
The representative of France said the text represents a delicate balance. “It is our collective duty to deliver a clear opinion,” he said, expressing regret over the tabling of several hostile amendments that tackle agreed‑upon language or paragraphs that have been discussed at length. He opposed the hostile amendments proposed by the Russian Federation and the United States and urged Member States to vote against them.
The representative of Argentina expressed support for consensus language, stressing that the proposed amendments undermine this consensus and set a bad precedent for the Committee’s work. Argentina, thus, opposes the amendments.
The representative of Germany, on behalf of the European Union, expressed deep regret over the presented amendments that undermine agreed language. The Russian Federation and the United States could have expressed their views during the 21 hours of negotiating, he said, stressing that the draft resolution provides much‑needed guidance on domestic violence, which nearly doubled during the pandemic. Most of the Russian Federation’s proposals are purely editorial, he said, highlighting the agreed‑upon, carefully crafted language of the draft resolution. He called the United States proposal to remove the words “health services” very concerning, expressing regret over attempts to undermine consensus on such important issues and urging Member States to vote against all the amendments.
The Committee then rejected amendment “L.59” by a recorded vote of 108 against to 22 in favour, with 33 abstentions.
Next, by a recorded vote of 105 against to 19 in favour, with 36 abstentions, the Committee rejected amendment “L.60”.
Then, acting through a recorded vote of 104 against to 33 in favour, with 24 abstentions, the Committee rejected amendment “L.61”.
It then rejected amendment “L.62” by a recorded vote of 105 against to 24 in favour, with 31 abstentions.
Through a recorded vote of 106 against to 10 in favour, with 42 abstentions, the Committee then rejected amendment “L.63”.
The Committee then decided to reject amendment “L.64” by a recorded vote of 107 against to 13 in favour, with 37 abstentions.
It then rejected amendment “L.65” by a recorded vote of 103 against to 20 in favour, with 36 abstentions.
Then, acting through a recorded vote of 117 against to 12 in favour, with 28 abstentions, the Committee rejected amendment “L.69”.
The Committee then rejected amendment “L.70” by a recorded vote of 113 against to 17 in favour, with 33 abstentions.
Next, the Committee rejected amendment “L.71” by a recorded vote of 102 against to 20 in favour, with 38 abstentions.
The representative of the Russian Federation, delivering a statement following action on the amendments, said her delegation demonstrated understanding and flexibility throughout the draft’s negotiation process. However, the resulting text requires further work and she said she could not support paragraphs for which her delegation tabled amendments. In addition, she voiced opposition to several other paragraphs and said Moscow would continue to fight all forms of violence based on agreed‑upon language. “The document is being used to promote the sponsors’ national priorities,” she warned, calling for a recorded vote on “L.19/Rev.1” as a whole and adding that her delegation would abstain.
Several delegations took the floor to explain their position before the vote on the draft as a whole.
The representative of France said calling for a vote on the draft as a whole was “outrageous”, especially as Moscow’s concerns were addressed in the negotiation process.
The representative of Germany, speaking on behalf of the European Union, expressed deep regret over Moscow’s decision to call for a vote on the draft and said that undermining consensus sends the wrong signal to survivors of violence around the world who have been disproportionately affected by COVID‑19.
The representative of Colombia said many of Moscow’s concerns had been taken on board throughout the negotiations and that her delegation would vote in favour of the draft.
Then, taking up the draft “L.19/Rev.1” as a whole, the Committee decided to approve it by a recorded vote of 170 in favour to none against, with 11 abstentions. By its terms, the Assembly would urge States to take effective action to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls and to address structural and underlying causes and risk factors. The Assembly would further urge States to ensure the promotion and protection of the human rights of all women, as well as their sexual and reproductive health, and reproductive rights in accordance with relevant mechanisms.
The representative of Algeria, delivering an explanation of vote after the adoption, reaffirmed her Government’s commitment to combat all forms of violence and said several national strategies are being implemented to that end. Despite this commitment, Algeria was forced to abstain because the draft contains problematic and ill‑defined terminology. The current version changed previously agreed language on the role of families in preventing violence, she noted, adding that the concept of “human rights defenders” is not properly defined at the international level.
The representative of Libya said her delegation abstained in the vote but still attached great importance to addressing violence against women and girls. She said the draft draws on concepts that her Government does not accept and that it fails to address cultural specificities.
The representative of the United States said the draft strayed from the issue at hand. Washington, D.C. provides funding for violence‑prevention initiatives in the country and supports programmes for survivors of gender‑based violence at the global level. The draft resolution co‑opts a serious issue to advance the “global abortion industry”, she warned, stressing that abortion does not protect life. It is hypocritical that a draft on violence against women puts forth abortion, a practice that takes the lives of countless girls, she said, adding that the United States dissociates from paragraphs for which it presented amendments.
The representative of Namibia voiced disappointment over the inability to reach consensus on several issues, including femicide. Violence against women is widespread and persistent, she stressed, adding that it remains an obstacle to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The representative of Egypt said she voted in favour of the draft as the elimination of violence against women is a national priority. However, she expressed regret that controversial issues made their way to the final text and dissociated from preambular paragraph 16 and operative paragraphs 6(i), 15 and 22.
The representative of Iran welcomed efforts to combat all forms of violence against women and girls and said he voted in favour of the draft despite a number of concerns regarding several of its provisions. He said implementation of the draft must account for the national context and legislation of each State.
The representative of Iraq said she voted in favour of draft resolution “L.19/Rev.1”. She expressed regret that language on the importance of the family as a fundamental unit of society was diluted, and that her comments were not taken onboard. Moreover, non‑consensual terminology was used, which did not accommodate national realities.
The representative of Qatar said she voted in favour of the draft, but any mention of reproductive healthcare services, as in operative paragraph 15 and preambular paragraph 28, must be understood to apply in line with her country’s religious and cultural values. The same applies to sex education, which is mentioned in operative paragraph 6.
The representative of Eritrea, in explanation of vote, said she voted in favour of the draft resolution, but wished the sponsors had achieved a balanced text which took on board all members’ views. Given the limited number of informal consultations, she had hoped for a draft focused on technical updates. However, the draft included certain controversial proposals, which had not been agreed upon intergovernmentally, including references to the Generation Equality Forum.
The representative of Morocco, in explanation of vote, expressed concern about the deplorable spike in domestic violence due to lockdowns around the world, and the “nefarious” effect of such measures on the rights of women and girls. Morocco remains a fervent defender of the rights of women and girls, and is in favour of strong, united language to promote these rights.
The representative of Tunisia said she co‑sponsored the draft resolution and voted in favour of it. It is regrettable that a vote was called on a text which has been adopted by consensus thus far. Regarding intimate partner violence, she expressed regret about the focus on “intimate partners, rather than violence, which is the point of resolution”.
The representative of New Zealand, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said she looked forward to a day when no one has to live with violence and expressed regret about a vote on the draft as whole.
The representative of the United Kingdom said she was “deeply disappointed” by the amendments proposed on a text which enjoys wide cross‑regional report, as demonstrated by the rejection of all amendments. Such amendments send a terrible signal to all women and girls, she said, adding that she is “deeply concerned about the precedent set today”.
The representative of Yemen said he voted in favour of the draft but does not agree with controversial terminology used therein. Therefore, he dissociated from terms that are not employed in national legislation, including the word “partner”.
The representative of Argentina said she was delighted to co‑sponsor the resolution and expressed regret over the decision to vote on it. In the context of the pandemic, the resolution is “crucial”. The text is balanced in terms of context and the facilitators were respectful to all delegates and their concerns.
An observer for the Holy See emphasized that the continual raising of sensitive issues is “dividing delegations and weakening our common efforts”. Any references to sexual and reproductive health‑care services must not be understood to include access to abortion, and the use of “gender” must be understood to be grounded in biological sexual identity and difference.
The Committee then turned to the draft resolution titled “Intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilation” (document A/C.3/75/L.15).
The representative of Burkina Faso, introducing the draft on behalf of the African Group, said female genital mutilation can have deadly consequences for girls. It is alarming that more than 4 million girls under the age of 15 are exposed to this harmful practice annually, despite all the efforts made to fight it. This practice violates the right to a life free from cruel and degrading treatment and has long-term consequences. “On the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, our work should focus on specific commitments,” she stressed. Thanking UNFPA for its constant cooperation in the fight against female genital mutilation, she noted that the draft constitutes a technical update, and as such, avoids new phrases. It is almost the same as the resolution adopted by consensus in 2018. Therefore, she expressed regret about the proposed amendments, urging Member States to “maintain perfect consensus and vote against any amendments that break consensus on the issue.”
The representative of the United States, introducing draft amendment “L.74”, said it reaffirms his country’s preferred language by deleting references to sexual and reproductive health in preambular paragraph 9, as well as in operative paragraph 1. Further, in operative paragraph 5, it proposes to replace the words “health‑care services, including for sexual and reproductive health, in order to improve their health and well-being” with the words “responsive interventions to meet the health needs of all”.
The representative of Germany, associating himself with the European Union, expressed deep regret about the United States’ “persistent attempts to propose amendments which were largely defeated”. It goes against the Committee’s practice to propose amendments to rollover resolutions. He expressed concern about the increasing rates of female genital mutilation witnessed in recent months, with people using the cover of lockdowns to engage in this harmful practice undetected. Moreover, screenings can be effective in preventing such violence. Therefore, the proposed deletions would be counterproductive. He said Germany will vote against all proposed amendments and called on others to do likewise.
The representative of Mexico, speaking on behalf of a cross-regional group of countries, said it is unusual to present amendments on a rollover text. Such an action constitutes a “deeply unfortunate attempt to disturb consensus”. Moreover, she expressed disappointment with the attempt to remove the language on health‑care services, which should be understood to go well beyond medical care for immediate needs.
The Committee then rejected draft amendment “L.74”, by a recorded vote of 136 against to 5 in favour (Belarus, Nauru, Qatar, Russian Federation, United States), with 20 abstentions.
The Committee then proceeded to approve the draft resolution on “Intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilation” (document A/C.3/75/L.15) as a whole.
By its terms, the Assembly would reaffirm that female genital mutilation is a harmful practice constituting a serious threat to the health of women and girls, including their physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health, and that the elimination of it can be achieved by involving all public and private stakeholders in society. The Assembly would urge States to promote consensus towards the elimination of female genital mutilation, and to protect women and girls who have been subjected to this harmful practice and those who are at risk. The Assembly would also urge States to condemn female genital mutilation, whether committed within or outside a medical institution, and to support programmes that engage local community practitioners of female genital mutilation in community-based initiatives for the elimination of the practice.
The representative of Brazil said he decided to join consensus on the draft despite several concerns related to the “balance” of the text. Any mention of sexual and reproductive health services must not be understood to promote or support abortion as a family planning method.
The representative of the United States said he recognized “cutting” as a harmful traditional practice that hinders development outcomes. However, he expressed regret that the amendments he proposed did not pass and stated that due to problematic language around health‑care services, which implies promotion of abortion, he disassociated himself from preambular paragraph 9, as well as from operative paragraphs 1 and 5.
Rights of Reply
The representative of China, speaking in right of reply, upbraided references made earlier in the day by the representative of the United States to the situation in Xinjiang, calling on that country to desist from “spreading their baseless, unfounded lies”, and to focus on controlling the virus instead.
The Committee then turned to the draft resolution titled “Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, questions relating to refugees, returnees and displaced persons and humanitarian questions” (document A/C.3/75/L.48).
The representative of Norway, presenting the draft resolution on behalf of the Nordic countries, said the annual omnibus resolution supports the humanitarian and non-political mandate of UNHCR. Given the extraordinary circumstances created by the COVID‑19 pandemic, and following the Committee bureau’s guidance, the draft this year is a technical rollover of the resolution, without substantial negotiations. While technical elements have been updated, no new substantial text has been included or deleted. This approach was presented to Member States at two briefings in Geneva and one in New York, and she thanked delegates for the broad cross-regional support for this approach. To be clear, “we are not establishing a new precedent with this approach,” she stressed. Noting that the Nordic facilitators remain hopeful that conditions will be conducive for holding substantive negotiations in 2021, she encouraged all delegates to join consensus.
The representative of Syria, in explanation of vote, said his country had hoped for more fruitful negotiations with Norway, especially as Syria had clarified its concerns during the conference on refugee returns, held on 11 and 12 November. Syria’s permanent mission in Geneva made efforts to reach consensus on the text and asked to engage in negotiations — but its request was rejected. Instead, inaccurate arguments were put forward, aimed at garnering support for a technical rollover under the pretext of having received guidance from the bureau. Norway’s delegation then placed the text under the silence procedure. However, Syria and Iran had submitted two notes outlining amendments — related to the substance of the draft — that should be included. “Our messages were ignored”, he said. Syria then suggested negotiating in New York on more than one occasion, in hopes of reaching agreement on a balanced text. “However, there was no response to our calls,” he asserted. As such, he requested that “L.48” be put to a vote, noting that Syria would abstain.
The representative of Portugal, on behalf of a group of countries, underscored the importance of international support for UNHCR. Undermining its work will only have negative consequences, and as such, he expressed support for the draft and called on others to do the same.
The representative of the United Kingdom expressed her country’s commitment to supporting refugees and enabling a longer-term holistic approach to refugee protection. UNHCR has a unique mandate, and its staff risk their lives in the most dangerous places in the world, a testament to their bravery. The draft is key to supporting their vital work, and she expressed deep regret that a vote has been called on a non-political humanitarian text.
The representative of Canada said her country is a long-standing partner of UNHCR, also highlighting efforts by refugee-hosting countries, especially during the COVID‑19 pandemic. She expressed support for the draft and deep disappointment that a vote has been called. Echoing the calls of the High Commissioner, she urged States to take a non-political approach.
The representative of Iran said his country has hosted refugees for the last four decades. However, due to unlawful coercive unilateral measures imposed by the United States, Iran and UNHCR face difficulties in responding favourably to the needs of the refugees. As such, his delegation will abstain from the vote.
The representative of Norway said it is regrettable that one country has called for a vote, as this draft has been traditionally adopted by consensus. She called on all Member States to vote in favour of it.
Draft resolution “L.48” was then approved by a recorded vote of 174 in favour to none against, with 7 abstentions (Cameroon, Eritrea, Hungary, Iran, Libya, Poland, Syria).
By the text, the Assembly would urge States Parties to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol thereto to respect their obligations in letter and spirit. It would call on States and other stakeholders that have not yet contributed to burden- and responsibility-sharing to do so, with a view to broadening the support base.
By other terms, the Assembly would renew its call on all States and others to provide the necessary support for the implementation of the Global Compact on Refugees, urging States to uphold the civilian and humanitarian character of refugee camps and settlements, through measures to prevent the infiltration of armed elements. It would likewise call on them to identify and separate any such armed elements from refugee populations, to settle refugees in secure locations and to afford to UNHCR prompt, unhindered and safe access to asylum seekers, refugees and other persons of concern. It would also deplore the refoulement and unlawful expulsion of refugees and asylum seekers and call on States concerned to respect the principles of refugee protection and human rights.
The representative of Hungary said his country has not joined the Global Compact on Refugees referenced in the draft. Therefore, Hungary abstained from the vote.
The representative of the United States joined consensus on the draft but disassociated from language that contravenes his country’s law and policy, specifically operative paragraph 33. Despite opposing arbitrary detention, there are certain cases where the detention of persons — including migrants and asylum seekers — is lawful and necessary for the maintenance of public safety and national security, he stressed.
The representative of Venezuela, noting that his country voted in favour, said it will continue to denounce the political instrumentalization of refugees. UNHCR and the international community must tackle the structural causes of migration.
The Committee then turned to the draft resolution titled “Protecting children from bullying” (document A/C.3/75/L.16/Rev.1).
The representative of Mexico, introducing the text, said bullying affects one in three children worldwide. It harms their physical and mental health, and its short-, medium- and long-term consequences are impossible to deny. “We must take it seriously, and undertake international and national measures to tackle it, in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Goal 16.2 of the 2030 Agenda,” he said. He expressed concern about the increasing threat of violence against children, including cyberbullying, in the context of the pandemic, particularly those who are already in a situation of marginalization. The draft acknowledges the urgent need to prevent and eliminate bullying among children, he said, adding that such violence is a serious problem, which requires collective commitment to be resolved.
The representative of the United States said she is pleased to join consensus on the draft. “Cyberbullying can be dire,” she said, adding, “Our first lady has made bullying a priority for her.” On references to education in the draft, she noted that any decisions on this front are taken by federal, state and local authorities in her country. Moreover, the resolution must not imply that States will implement the parts of it that refer to instruments, of which it is not a party, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Moreover, not all forms of bullying are physically violent, she stressed.
The Committee then approved “L.16/Rev.1” without a vote.
By its terms, the Assembly would call on Member States to continue to take all appropriate measures to protect children from any form of violence, including bullying — and notably cyberbullying — by promptly responding to such acts, and to provide appropriate support to children affected by and involved in bullying. Further, it would call upon Member States to support victims of bullying with access to evidence-based, quality programmes, care and counselling for their physical, psychological and social recovery. It would also call on States to generate and analyse statistical information and data disaggregated by sex, age and other characteristics relevant in national contexts, and to provide information on disability, related to the problem of bullying and cyberbullying, as a basis on which to elaborate effective public policies.