Environmental Crises, Climate Emergencies Unfairly Threatening Livelihoods of Indigenous Communities, Most Vulnerable, Third Committee Heard Today
Environment Rapporteur Underscores Low Probability of Achieving Sustainable Development Goals by 2030
While pandemics and wars are devastating events, they are transient distractions compared to the magnitude of extreme poverty, grotesque inequality and environmental catastrophes that threaten our future, United Nations experts told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), as delegates continued their debate on human rights today, holding a series of dialogues.
“We are living in a climate emergency,” warned David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, underlining the strikingly low probability of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. It will require an additional investment of $33.6 trillion over the next eight years, he added, citing inadequate funding as the major obstacle to progress. It may be tempting to blame the COVID‑19 pandemic or the war in Ukraine, he said, but the painful truth is that the world was off-track even before these terrible events.
The two pillars of the global economy — the exploitation of people and the exploitation of the planet — are fundamentally incompatible with full enjoyment of human rights, he asserted. Voicing concern over the failure to apply the widely endorsed “polluter pays” principle, he emphasized that high-income States — the main cause of the triple planetary crisis — bear a special responsibility to respect the right to a sustainable environment and assist climate-vulnerable nations in responding to the climate emergency.
Along similar lines, Marcos Orellana, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and waste, said the voices of indigenous peoples are too often silenced in decision-making processes involving chemicals and wastes. This is a form of racial discrimination that aggravates the disproportionate harm indigenous peoples suffer from toxic pollution, he stressed, adding that exposure to toxins has caused harmful effects on endocrine and reproductive functions, birth defects, cancers, and deaths.
The environmental violence inflicted upon indigenous peoples infringes on their rights to land, self-determination, and a healthy environment, he cautioned, calling on States to end the double standard of allowing the production of highly hazardous pesticides that they ban in their own territories.
By 2030, the unavoidable economic losses due to climate change are projected to reach $290-580 billion, while 3.3 billion people are living in countries with high human vulnerability to the phenomenon, cautioned Ian Fry, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change. Spotlighting recent climate change disasters, he drew attention to Zimbabwe, where 60,000 people were internally displaced in 2019, as well as El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, where the number of food-insecure people reached 6.4 million in 2021.
In 2020, Cyclone Amphan, which hit Bangladesh, caused 500,000 families to lose their homes, he added. Voicing concern over violence suffered by climate rights defenders, including indigenous peoples, he called for the participation of the most affected in decision-making.
In the ensuing dialogue, Fiji’s delegate voiced concern over the lack of global solidarity and political will in response to climate crises. Echoing her concerns, Pakistan’s delegate stressed that her country is one of the worst-affected. Drawing attention to recent devastating floods, in which over 1,700 people lost their lives and 1,300 were injured, she called on the Special Rapporteur to mobilize climate financing and technology transfer for developing countries.
Meanwhile, Australia’s delegate, describing climate change as an existential threat to the region, highlighted her country’s $2 billion climate finance commitment from 2020 to 2025.
Later in the day, the focus shifted to the rights of persons with disabilities, with two experts, Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, and Rosemary Kayess, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, presenting their reports and highlighting the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic, armed conflict – including the war in Ukraine — and climate change on persons with disabilities.
Also briefing the Committee today was Fabian Salvioli, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence.
The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 25 October, to continue its consideration of human rights.
Interactive Dialogues: Environment
DAVID RICHARD BOYD, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, warned that the probability of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 is strikingly low. It may be tempting to blame the COVID‑19 pandemic, or the war in Ukraine, but the painful truth is that the world was off track even before these two terrible events. The global economy is based on two pillars — the exploitation of people and the exploitation of the planet — that are fundamentally incompatible with the full enjoyment of human rights. While pandemics and wars are devastating events, they are transient distractions compared to the magnitude of extreme poverty, grotesque inequality and environmental catastrophe that threaten our future, he said. The biggest problem is not the Sustainable Development Goals themselves, but the way they are perceived and portrayed by States as merely aspirational. In fact, the Goals are built on a robust foundation of legally binding and enforceable human rights and international environmental laws. To this end, he called for a rights-based approach, which prioritizes improving conditions for the poorest and most vulnerable.
He went on to underline that the major obstacle to progress is inadequate funding. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 will require an additional investment of $4.2 trillion per year and $33.6 trillion over the next eight years. In this context, he voiced concern over structural problems in the global economy, such as astronomical debt levels and debt servicing costs as well as difficulty accessing adequate finance for low-income countries, massive subsidies for fossil fuels and other destructive industries, tax evasion, international investment and trade treaties that prioritize profits over human rights, and a failure to apply the widely endorsed “polluter pays” principle. Another problem is the longstanding failure of wealthy States to fulfil their commitments to provide development assistance.
To fulfil their human rights obligations and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, States should take immediate rights-based action to improve air quality by reducing air pollution; ensure everyone has access to safe and sufficient water; transform industrial agriculture to produce healthy and sustainable food; accelerate actions required to address the global climate and energy crises, replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy; and conserve biodiversity and detoxify people’s bodies and the planet. Moreover, he called on States to take urgent action to safeguard environmental human rights defenders. High-income States, as the main cause of the triple planetary crisis, bear a special responsibility when it comes to respecting the right to a sustainable environment, he stressed, noting that a key priority is assisting climate vulnerable nations to respond to the climate emergency.
When the floor opened for comments and questions, the delegate of the United States reiterated his country’s commitment to working domestically and internationally to protect the environment and respect human rights. He then asked the Special Rapporteur about immediate steps for a shared understanding of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
The delegate of the European Union asked about the Special Rapporteur’s engagement with Member States in assisting them to develop environmental law. Referring to recommendations the report makes for States, financial institutions and businesses, she asked him to explain his engagement with these stakeholders.
The representative of Chile noted that, in his country, the right to a clean environment is a constitutional right. He also said that the Government puts people and their rights “in the heart of everything it does”.
Luxembourg’s representative said her country has surpassed many goals set in energy consumption and green energy use. She, however, expressed regret that the United Nations is not leading the way in energy efficiency, calling for more coherence in implementation of its practices.
The representative of Malaysia said his country is pursuing clean, green and resilient development through a whole-of-nation approach, outlining three main priorities established by the Government. He enquired how his country could capitalize on the recent recognition of the access to a healthy, sustainable environment as a universal right in bringing his country back on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.
Similarly, the delegate of Algeria raised a question about climate financing, noting that developed countries don’t honor their commitments under the Paris Agreement. He asked whether such behavior can be considered a human rights violation and how developed countries could be held accountable.
The delegate of Syria expressed regret about some formulations in the report regarding States not meeting most of the climate targets outlined.
Portugal’s representative said her country was one of the first to recognize the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment in the Constitution, noting that the document also mentions specific obligations of States in this regard. Recalling the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations on strengthening the regulation of supply chains through due diligence, she requested that he elaborate on this process.
Responding, Mr. BOYD outlined three main categories of action to ensure the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment – advancing legal recognition and mainstreaming this right, accelerating action to fulfil it, and monitoring performance and progress. Elaborating on each category and recognizing the non-legally binding nature of recent resolutions, he underscored that the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment should be recognized as a law at the global level. On the national level, he said that several human rights treaties could be used to enshrine this right, supporting development of an additional protocol to the European Convention of Human Rights on the right to a sustainable environment. He also emphasized the critical importance of monitoring the performance and progress of implementation.
Turning to his engagement with States, he reported close cooperation with national Governments in providing recommendations on strengthening their laws on a clean environment, outlining more than 500 good practices from more than 150 States. “We are living in a climate emergency,” he said, underscoring the need for urgent action on mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage. Spotlighting the shift to renewable energy sources as one of the good practices, he pointed to the example of Uruguay, noting that it took a decade for the country to shift from a high dependency on fossil fuels for energy production to renewable sources. Due to substantial investment in wind, solar and hydro energy sources, he also noted that Portugal has shifted from generating 30 per cent to 60 per cent of renewable energy, with the view of increasing shares to 80 per cent in 2015 and 100 per cent in 2030. He further observed that several countries have achieved 99 per cent or 100 per cent energy generation from renewable sources.
Noting that the question on environment-related loss and damage ties in with several queries regarding financial support for developing and low-income nations, he pointed to a “massive” finance gap of over $4 trillion a year. He expressed regret that responses from wealthy nations, which are mainly responsible, have been insufficient. Highlighting the current triple environmental crisis, he underscored the need for prevention based on the rights-based approach. “We are the privileged few,” he said, stressing that the impacts of the global environmental crises are falling largely upon the shoulders of vulnerable and marginalized communities. “It is absolutely imperative that we, as leaders, accelerate our efforts to fulfil everyone’s right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.”
Also speaking were representatives of Mexico, Switzerland, Slovenia, France, Republic of Korea, Germany, Namibia, Brazil and the Sovereign Order of Malta in its role as observer.
MARCOS ORELLANA, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and waste, presented his report (A/77/183) addressing human rights violations and abuses that indigenous peoples suffer from. He said that in many parts of the world, a State’s sovereignty as well as its ability to regulate extractive industries are fictional principles, though States use them both to justify extraction of natural resources on indigenous people’s territories in violation of their human rights, he said. Further, oil and gas companies continuing to search for hydrocarbon deposits, despite the climate crisis, will lead to States further promoting fossil fuels. Other problems affecting indigenous lands include agribusinesses, set up near or on them, exposing the lands to toxic pesticides through aerial fumigation, as well as hazardous waste dumping .
He said that indigenous people’s voices are too often silenced in processes related to chemical and waste disposal. Affirming that this is a form of racial discrimination, he highlighted the double bind it presents: indigenous people’s limited access to healthcare exposes them more to adverse effects of toxics; and they have limited access to justice because of discrimination, corruption and a lack of protective laws. Noting that effects of toxics exposure has resulted in birth defects, cancers and deaths for indigenous people, he stressed that this environmental violence is a violation of the right to self-determination and a clean, healthy environment. He called on States to protect indigenous people’s rights, and end the double standard of allowing exports of hazardous pesticides that they ban in their own territories. He also called on the private sector to obtain free, prior, and informed consent from indigenous people affected by their activities. Highlighting that the loss of indigenous cultures deprives humanity of both richness and heritage, he stressed that the effective enjoyment of the rights recognized by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples rests on respect for the right to live in a non-toxic environment. “Toxic substances should have no place in the lands or bodies of indigenous peoples,” he said.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, the representative of the European Union, in her capacity as an observer, asked the Special Rapporteur to offer examples of good practices to reduce plastic waste.
The representative of the Marshall Islands welcomed the recent resolution of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) entitled “Technical Assistance and Capacity Building to Address the Nuclear Legacy in the Marshall Islands” as a key opportunity to assist in addressing the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations. She asked about sacrificed zones — what steps could be taken to better identify them and what body or bodies would do that work.
The representative of Nigeria highlighted redoubled efforts to clean up oil contamination in the Southern Ogoniland region and made recommendations to expand an alternative livelihood project for water-improvement for the Ogoni people.
The representative of Algeria asked how to implement a framework in developing countries to remedy human rights violations resulting from the illegal dumping of hazardous waste produced in the Northern hemisphere.
The representative of China expressed deep concern about the hazardous waste dumping of the United States in indigenous lands as well as outside its borders. She invited the United States to reflect on the genocide of its indigenous people.
The representative of Iran suggested that the Special Rapporteur monitor the transfer of polluting technology to developing countries and provide guidelines to dispose of it correctly.
Responding first to the European Union’s question, Mr. ORELLANA said recycling and incineration are ineffectively carried out, as less than 10 per cent of eligible goods have been recycled in the past decade, adding that incineration of plastics releases more toxics into the atmosphere. Good practices must not only focus on the end step of waste management, but on the beginning — looking at toxics used in plastics, the volume produced and which polymers — so that a circular economy can exist. To questions from China and the Marshall Islands, he noted that military exercises and weapons are responsible for water and ground contamination through use of nuclear testing and polyfluoroalkyl substances or ‘forever chemicals’ in fire drills. To the Marshall Islands point, he said that sacrifice zones emerge from misguided development paths, but also the failure to account for the primacy of economic interests over vulnerable communities. Welcoming Nigeria’s example of clean up and remediation measures, he turned to the legacy of contamination. Small scale gold mining creates contaminated zones through the use of mercury, mainly to satisfy the jewellery industry, financial speculation, and technology. He lamented that the promise of the Minimata Convention would be impossible to fulfil, given the proliferation of small-scale mining.
To Algeria’s question about waste movement, he said that impacts of toxics on the body may only manifest after five to twenty years, stressing that countries must not use statute of limitation laws to prevent courts from hearing cases related to harm induced from dumped toxics, recalling Sweden’s hazardous dumping in Arica, Chile in 1984. To Iran’s point, he stressed that the transfer of dirty and obsolete technologies from the Global North to the Global South is a transfer of hazardous waste. Finally, he said that the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People protects rights regarding the conservation of plants, animals and minerals to safeguard traditional medicine. It also includes provisions for free, prior, and informed consent and justice and explicitly talks about not storing or dumping on indigenous lands, which all rests on the right to a non-toxic environment.
IAN FRY, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change, said his report (A/77/226) was compiled in consultation with Governments, civil society organizations and United Nations agencies. Noting that throughout the world, human rights are negatively impacted and violated due to climate change, he stressed that a human-induced phenomenon represents the most pervasive threat the natural environment and human societies have ever experienced. Inaction by developed economies and major corporations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has led to demands for “climate reparations” for losses incurred, he said, noting that Group of 20 Member countries account for 78 per cent of emissions over the last decade. Subsidies for fossil fuels are estimated to be about $500 billion annually, he added, far exceeding States’ promises to support climate change mitigation. Further, fossil fuel producers are using investor-State dispute settlements within the Energy Charter Treaty to sue States for acting on climate change, he said.
Studies by the International Federation of the Red Cross have found that about 3.3 billion people are living in countries with high human vulnerability to climate change, he said. In this regard, he pointed to the 60,000 internally displaced persons in Zimbabwe (2019); 160,000 internally displaced persons and 1.72 million affected in Mozambique; 6.4 million people in 2021 touched by food insecurity in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras (2021); 500,000 families left without their homes in Bangladesh after Cyclone Amphan and the destruction of 149,000 hectares of agricultural lands; and 407 victims of Super-Typhoon Rai in the Philippines, which caused losses of $336 million to agricultural goods. Noting that economic losses due to climate change are projected to reach $290 — 580 billion by 2030, he noted that, since 2008, an annual average of over 20 million people have been internally displaced by weather-related extreme events. Speaking of a “participation disconnect”, he encouraged the participation of the most affected in decision-making, underlining violence suffered by climate rights defenders, including indigenous peoples, sometimes resulting in their deaths. The General Assembly should agree to establish a climate change redress and grievance mechanism to allow vulnerable communities to seek recourse for damages incurred, as well as mandate the International Law Commission to develop international legal procedure protection to environmental and indigenous human rights defenders, he said.
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, pointed to her bloc’s initiatives in climate mitigation and adaptation. She asked the Rapporteur to further elaborate on his core activities to protect human rights in a climate change context, especially concerning the protection of climate defenders. She also asked about supporting children’s rights in the context of climate change.
The representative of Australia stressed that climate has already had significant impacts on Australia and the Pacific, posing an existential threat to the region, threatening cultural heritage, livelihoods and security. His country will stand “shoulder to shoulder” with its partners to address the crises, he said, pointing to its actions to support vulnerable, affected populations, including through provision of increased climate finance in the region. As part of Australia’s $2 billion climate finance commitment from 2020 to 2025, he said, the country will spend $700 million on climate and disaster resilience in the Pacific. He asked how action on loss and damage, disaster risk reduction and humanitarian assistance can be made more effective at the community level.
The representative of Ireland, referring to the “participation disconnect”, inquired as to how States can work better to ensure the participation of groups in vulnerable situations at all levels, and about good practices. Further, she asked for an elaboration on the recommendation to establish a process to revise the Gender Action Plan. The representative of Algeria noted that most recommendations in the report target the fossil fuel sector, giving the impression that it is the only source of activity responsible for climate change impacts. He noted that, while international transport and agriculture are indicated as significant sources of emissions, recommendations do not address those sources. Pointing to the recommendation to establish an international, legally binding fossil fuel financial-disclosure mechanism to require Governments, businesses and financial institutions to disclose their investments in fossil fuels, he asked how this can be possible in the current crisis. It will impact all other human rights in energy-producing countries, he said, asking how States could mitigate the impact of such a measure. Pointing to the recommendation for a human rights tribunal to hold accountable Governments and different actors for their investments in fossil fuels, he asked if such a proposal can hold States accountable for not honoring their commitments in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
The representative of Fiji asked to what extent and urgency can the Rapporteur’s office advance the establishment of a loss and damage facility that will assist countries facing multidimensional challenges in meeting development aspirations. She inquired whether his mandate allows further engagement in the formulation of the multilateral vulnerability index, and why there is a lack of global solidarity, political will and action in response to climate crises. The representative of the Russian Federation said his country makes a sizable contribution to efforts to reduce the anthropogenic impact on the environment. Despite assurances of greenhouse emissions reductions, the United States has yet to fulfil its promises, he said. Advocating for the improved efficiency of existing international legal mechanisms in environmental protection, he expressed concern over the erosion of the mandates of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and other international environmental and climate platforms. Noting with regret attempts to shift the discussion of environmental issues to other non-specialized bodies, he said this has led to the arbitrary expansion of Human Rights Council and OHCHR mandates. The representative of Pakistan asked the Rapporteur to highlight perspectives and needs of developing countries in facing effects of climate change that are not of their making. Noting that her country is one of the worst-affected, she pointed to the recent devastating floods in which over 1,700 people lost their lives and 1,300 were injured. The total estimated damage cost of this calamity equals 10 per cent of Pakistan’s GDP, she said, asking the Rapporteur to mobilize climate financing and technology transfer for developing countries and inquiring as to what mechanisms can be employed for debt relief to cancel or restructure debts equitably.
Mr. FRY, responding, underscored the need for accountability mechanisms to deal with disappearances or arrests of climate rights defenders, calling for effective international mechanisms to protect them. Adding that efforts could be directed at loss and damage at the community level, he underscored the enormous scale of impacts at the national level, which requires a proper international response. Turning to the “participation disconnect”, he urged States to learn from other environmental treaty bodies and open up the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to greater participation by civil society. On revising the Gender Action Plan under the Convention, he said this needs to focus on specific issues, thus becoming “fit for purposes”. On non-economic losses, he spotlighted the enormous human cost of displacement due to climate change. Discussing a loss and damage facility, he noted that climate change financing moves slowly and suggested that experts look at innovative sources of financing.
Also speaking were the representatives of Poland, Luxembourg, Brazil, Liechtenstein, United Kingdom, India, China, Iran, Iceland and Bangladesh.
General Debate Statements
KENNETH WELLES (Federated States of Micronesia), drawing attention to countries where all citizens have not yet received the COVID‑19 vaccine, said no nation should fight the pandemic alone. Pointing to scholarships that have provided opportunities for women and girls to pursue education and achieve their career goals, he stressed that more women than ever before are taking on important leadership positions in private and public sectors in his country. He went on to underline that women, children, and persons with disabilities are often the first to be affected by the climate crisis. The people of the Federated States of Micronesia and the Pacific are already experiencing its impacts and soon, if not now, the whole world will face the same crises, he warned. Stressing that the 1.5 degrees pathway of the Paris Agreement must be met, he urged all countries to update their nationally determined contributions and commit to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.
DIARRA DIME LABILLE (France) said the Russian Federation and its allies must end their massive human rights violations in Ukraine. She also expressed concern over efforts within the Russian Federation to stifle anti-war dissent. Further, France calls on the authorities in Iran to guarantee freedom of expression and ensure equal rights between women and men. In Syria, she said only a credible and inclusive political solution will bring sustainable peace and the voluntary, safe and dignified return of refugees. In Afghanistan, the Taliban must respect relevant Security Council resolutions, while in Mali, France vigorously condemns attacks on civilians, notably by Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. She regretted the absence of debate on human rights violations in Xinjiang, calling on all Member States to pursue collective efforts to fully realize the rights of women and girls. She also encouraged Member States to support the General Assembly’s biennial resolution for a universal moratorium on the death penalty.
NASEER AHMED FAIQ (Afghanistan) said that extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and detainment of former security forces are just some of the human rights violations in his country, whereas the forced displacement of ethnic groups in the Baghlan and Panjshir provinces should be investigated as war crimes. Of particular concern is the situation of women and girls, which he described as gender apartheid. School closures and increased scrutiny of their actions and dress in public and private has erased them from social and economic spheres, he added. Turning to terrorist attacks targeting Hazara, Shia and other minorities, he recalled the attack on the Kaaj Educational Centre in Kabul, stating it was not only an attack on girls’ access to education and on an ethnic group, but a manifestation of the Taliban’s failure to secure power. He called on the United Nations to implement a fact-finding mission on the Hazara genocide, summary killings, and forced displacement, while urging all Member States to maintain pressure on the de facto Taliban authorities to comply with their commitments to form a just and inclusive society. He called for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) to play a greater role in the promotion of human rights in the country.
OMAR KADIRI (Morocco) underscored actions in his country to keep national legislation in line with international conventions, highlighting significant legislation reform. In addition, he cited the National Action Plan on the protection of democracy and human rights, adding that Morocco has just been elected to the Human Rights Council for the period 2023-2025. He underscored his country’s commitment to work to promote fundamental freedoms, including by fostering cooperation and strengthening the human rights system. Further, he pointed to women’s participation in the country’s Government, where six serve as ministers and 150 as members of Parliament.
NUSAIBA HASHIM MOHAMED ALI IDRES (Sudan), associating herself with China, said her country’s Constitutional document contains an entire chapter devoted to human rights and freedoms. Highlighting ongoing cooperation with several human rights organisms, she pointed to the goal of complying with the obligations of international law and continuing to strengthen human rights nationally and internationally. Being a party to most human rights instruments, Sudan is making efforts to adapt their national policies in line with the Conventions the country has signed. She spotlighted policy and programme efforts to carry out the democratic transition, underscoring institutional and legal reforms to address human rights. She also noted that her country has lifted all restrictions hindering delivery of humanitarian assistance, particularly in conflict areas. In this regard, the transition Government adopted projects related to displaced persons to improve their living conditions.
KYAW MOE TUN (Myanmar), noting that a priority of a civilian government is to promote and protect human rights, said that since the illegal military coup in February 2021, people in Myanmar have been suffering from atrocities committed by the military junta. These include indiscriminate killings, arbitrary arrests, and sexual violence. Further, he said military forces launch air strikes and use heavy weaponry against civilian areas, followed by raids of junta soldiers, who shoot up villages and torch houses, sometimes with the villagers trapped inside. Noting that innocent people are killed in such attacks, he stressed that hundreds or thousands have had to flee their villages, adding that those who could not were used as human shields by junta forces. He noted that one million people have been displaced in Myanmar since the coup last year. Recalling the 24 December 2021 massacre in the Hpruso Township, Karenni (Kayah) Township, he underscored violations to children’s right to education, freedom of expression and right to privacy. “In many areas, individuals who refuse to show the contents of their phone are shot dead by military forces,” he said, adding that “the military junta is pursuing a tactic of punishment by proxy”, abducting or detaining dear ones of targeted individuals the junta cannot find. Adding that there are many unexplained deaths of political prisoners, while the junta continues to enjoy impunity, he appealed to the Security Council to take swift and decisive actions to end the military dictatorship.
YOUSEF S. I. SALAH (Libya), spotlighting violence, terrorism, religious extremism, racial and tribal conflicts and foreign occupation – such as in the occupied Palestinian territories – urged the international community to consider serious reform of the human rights system. Developing countries continue to be denied their right to development due to the unfavourable economic environment, which forces them to yield control and exacerbates poverty, illiteracy and disease, he emphasized. The imbalance between economic, social and cultural rights and civil and political rights goes against the interconnected and indivisible nature of human rights, he said. Further, this imbalance erodes confidence in the international community’s ability to address human rights issues fairly, adds uncertainty about the future and injects fear of selective and double-standard approaches.
HERINIRINA RAVELONARIVO ANDRIAMASY (Madagascar) voiced concern over the many challenges facing the international community since the COVID-19 pandemic began, including the food and energy price increase and food insecurity. Climate change is generating population displacement, while impacting agricultural production, further amplifying the risk of fundamental human rights violations, he said. In this context, he called on States to pay special attention to marginalized persons. He commended the approach to human rights of the Government of China, which favours the development of its entire population.. Citing a lack of objectivity and impartiality within the United Nations, he warned against instrumentalization of human rights.
RIM KNANI (Tunisia), aligning herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, called on the international community to fulfil its obligations to safeguard human rights, avoid selectiveness and double standards, and ensure that the Human Rights Council and other organizations do not politicize human rights. There must be greater collaboration to share technical expertise and strengthen States’ capacities based on their needs, she added. The nexus between peace and security, development and human rights requires the treatment of human rights as indivisible, she emphasized. The international community must formulate policies that support development, provide financing for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, fight hate speech, ensure gender equality and enhance the role of women and youth.
RUXANDRA STANCIU (Romania), aligning herself with the European Union, said that policies in support of persons belonging to minorities must be tied to cultural, historical and social realities. She spotlighted her country’s national efforts, legislation and Constitution to demonstrate its inclusion, promotion and protection of the rights of persons belonging to minorities, rejecting any form of ethnically or religiously motivated intolerance or violence. Ethnic and religious diversity are sources of development that enrich any culture or society, she emphasized. Turning to persons with disabilities, she detailed her country’s policies and efforts in support of their rights.
The representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), raised concern over the unabated increase in missing persons worldwide. Over the past five years, cases registered by ICRC have increased by 80 per cent to more than 180,000. This represents just the tip of the iceberg, as there are many more cases that are not registered, he stressed, adding that States are insufficiently prepared to prevent people from going missing, to clarify their fate and whereabouts when they do, and to address the needs of their families. While people go missing in a broad range of contexts, armed conflicts remain a critical factor driving these ever-larger numbers.
He called on States to abide by the rules that international humanitarian law provides to account for people, to prevent family separation and people from going missing, and to ensure that the dead are treated with dignity and properly identified in armed conflicts. In international armed conflicts, States must account for protected persons by sharing relevant information on prisoners of war, wounded, sick and dead military personnel and other protected persons in their hands with the Central Tracing Agency of ICRC.
The representative of China, exercising his right of reply to France’s statement on Xinjiang, said that France, the United States and other Western countries remain obsessed with fabrications smearing and attacking China. Rejecting such allegations, he pointed to double standards and hypocrisy that has emerged in the Third Committee. In a previous intervention on 20 October, the United States attacked several developing countries, he said, noting that the country remained silent about violations within its borders and by its allies. If the United States is truly committed to the universality of human rights, he said it should dedicate five minutes of its next intervention on naming and shaming allied countries. Adding that the United States and other Western countries have weaponized human rights issues, he underscored that, on 6 October, the Human Rights Council explicitly rejected the Xinjiang draft decision proposed by the United States and other countries, which brought the topic to the Third Committee. Pointing to an attempt to organize a side meeting on Xinjiang, he called on Member States to see through this “political conspiracy” and “resist the fuss” of such event.
In exercising the right of reply, the representative of Syria responded to France, reminding the Committee, that his country is called the Syrian Arab Republic and that they should not use the word regime. Underlining his French colleague’s hypocrisy in calling out human rights abuses in his country, he recalled that France has supplied Jihadis and Islamic militants with weapons for the past decade and that the French cement company Lafarge just pled guilty to conspiracy to aid Al Qaida and ISIS in Syria.
Interactive Dialogues: Disabilities
GERARD QUINN, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, presented his thematic report on the “Protection of the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of military operations” (A/77/203). He recalled that protection of persons with disabilities is not new but inscribed in the 1949 Geneva Convention — coined there as “sick and infirm”. Highlighting problems in military operations, such as non-inclusive evacuation processes and indiscriminate use of ordinances with traumatizing effects, he said the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities can make persons with disabilities visible in international humanitarian law by replacing a medical model of disability with a human–rights-based model. Accumulated disadvantages faced by persons with disabilities ignored in the medical model will then be factored into account in both doctrine and practice, he said.
Affirming that the report can be seen as an extension of Security Council resolution 2475 on “Protection of persons with disabilities in armed conflict”, he lauded his agency’s close collaboration with ICRC, the International Disability Alliance and the Diakonia International Humanitarian Law Centre in convening meetings and uniting military authorities with organizations of persons with disabilities. The aim of the report is not to imagine a more inclusive form of warfare, but to reduce lethality and address the plight of civilians with disabilities who are neglected in the field. He alluded to the next thematic report, which will focus on the moral agency of persons with disabilities and their voice in peacebuilding processes. “Ultimately, societies torn apart by conflict have to be mended, and persons with disabilities have unique insights to offer in building more inclusive and sustainable societies to the benefit of all,” he said.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, the representative of Israel said his country’s Home Front Command of the Israeli Defence Force has a special branch to assist evacuation of persons with disabilities when rockets are launched into the country. There is a designated application for hearing-impaired persons, and information services also exist by text message. He asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on the resumption of services for people with disabilities during conflict.
The representative of the United States highlighted work on disabilities through the United States Agency for International Development, asking how lessons learned can apply to planning and response processes for humanitarian crises.
The representative of Qatar said his country offers support to persons with disabilities through pedagogical programmes and its work with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Providing funding for a hospital in Gaza has restored hope by providing artificial limbs to victims, he said. He called on all parties to protect civilians in armed conflict in accordance with obligations to international human rights law.
Meanwhile, the representative of the Russian Federation criticized the Special Rapporteur’s work as inefficient, adding that while persons with disabilities certainly face difficulty in life, there is no reason to devote three detailed reports to the issue. He also said that Mr. Quinn made an inappropriate link between his mandate and humanitarian protocols during war, suggesting that he stick to his mandate.
The representative of Hungary said her country has opened its borders to all those fleeing the ongoing war in Ukraine, including those with disabilities. Adding that the Government has provided access to health care and services to persons with disabilities, she highlighted the actions of the Hungarian Association of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, which provides deaf and hard of hearing refugees directions at their entry into the country, as well as shelter in their headquarters. Further, due to the advances of Hungary’s deinstitutionalization process for persons with disabilities and children without parental care, former institutions were quickly converted to house refugees.
The representative of China noted that her country has 85 million persons with disabilities, adding that their rights and interests have been guaranteed through total implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and a corresponding 90‑plus pieces of legislation. To integrate women with disabilities into the economic sphere, they are provided with training workshops. Further, China hosted the 2022 Paralympics.
The representative for ICRC said the thematic report outlines many meetings of persons with disabilities discussing death and injury from lack of access to shelters and exclusion. He underscored that international humanitarian law is more than just a theory and called on States to incorporate recommendations into their military manuals and develop communication pathways with persons with disabilities to better include their perspectives.
Also speaking in the dialogue were representatives of Mexico, Luxembourg, United Kingdom, Finland, Belarus, Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Ireland, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and the European Union, in its capacity as observer.
ROSEMARY KAYESS, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, highlighted collaboration between her Committee and the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which resulted in adoption of a joint statement on the rights of children with disabilities. She also referred to a joint statement with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, which calls for immediate and longer-term action to respond to situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies. She added that the Committee has also undertaken a series of meetings with relevant States parties to receive specific information on the impact of the war in Ukraine on persons with disabilities. She noted that there are currently 185 States parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and 100 to the Optional Protocol.
She added that the Committee has maintained the same level of resources as in 2014 despite a 30 per cent increase in States party reviews and a 50 per cent increase in backlog. Stressing that the provision of reasonable accommodation is not developed within the United Nations system, she added that the Committee is still constrained by protocols and decisions that have resulted in a lack of consistent, accessible meeting spaces and limited provision of accessible information and communications. This has impacted both treaty body members and the Committee’s engagement with people with disabilities, she said, adding that this will be exacerbated at the end of this year when the business continuity rule expires. She called on States to commit to treaty body strengthening through the predictable schedule of reviews, harmonization of working methods and digital uplift. Reasonable accommodation allowing experts with disabilities to participate on an equal basis with others will form an integral part of aligned working methods and of the digital uplift, she emphasized. Noting that these measures require sustainable financing for the treaty body system and all human rights mechanisms, she urged States to fulfil the resource requirements of these organs.
The representative of the European Union underscored his bloc’s actions to fight discrimination against persons with disabilities and ensure their participation. He asked how States and United Nations bodies can improve their engagement and dialogue with civil society to incorporate all voices, including those of persons with disabilities.
The representative of Mexico asked about good practices on the deinstitutionalization of persons with disabilities, including in emergency situations. Noting her country’s actions and tools to guarantee persons with disabilities equal opportunities, she acknowledged the re-election of Mexican expert Dr. Amalia Gamio as a member of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The representative of Japan, noting work to remove social barriers in realizing an inclusive society, asked how the Chair considers the role of the Committee in strengthening its cooperation with States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The representative of Iceland pointed to amendments to her country’s legislation to implement the Convention and the ongoing elaboration of a national plan to safeguard the rights of persons with disabilities. Underscoring that the members of the Committee have a key role in ensuring that the rights of persons with disabilities are taken into consideration when finding human rights solutions to new challenges, she asked where the widest high-protection gap is when countering these challenges.
The representative of Mali, citing efforts for the inclusion and social development of persons with disabilities, stressed actions to promote educational support for them, including through free assistance devices and other solidarity means. She affirmed that supporting people with disabilities should be subject to a coherent and global approach in times of peace and war, which, she said, applies to persons with disabilities from all backgrounds. Addressing the use of new technology, she asked what means are available for persons with disabilities.
The representative of Belarus, noting that paralympic athletes from Belarus and the Russian Federation were banned in March 2022 from participating in the Winter Olympics, said her country saw no related comments from specialized international organizations. Affirming that the experts of the Committee have not given due consideration to the issue, she relayed her country’s impression that the Convention does not apply to people with disabilities from Belarus and Russia. She urged the Committee to assess the discriminatory decision by the International Paralympic Committee and asked the personal opinion of the Rapporteur.
The representative of Côte D’Ivoire, citing his country’s actions to promote the rights of persons with disabilities, underscored the challenges these people face, especially in developing countries, which is where more than 80 per cent of the world’s billion disabled persons live. “For this category of persons, in addition to the socioeconomic barriers that they face, they also face a lack of materials adapted to their particular disability situations, especially sporting equipment,” he said. He asked if the Committee has launched an initiative to make such materials available. The representative of the Russian Federation, pointing out the one-sided approach of the Committee to assessing the situation in Ukraine, said that the reports and statements of the Committee don’t mention the personal responsibility of the Ukrainian authorities. Affirming that many States of the West are involved in the conflict, he said the Committee has been silent about the crimes of the Kyiv regime against its own citizens, who have become disabled because of the so-called anti-terrorist operation in southeastern Ukraine.
Affirming that the Committee showed no concern about the victims of multiple incidents of shelling by Ukrainians, he called on it to address issues that fall under its mandate. Responding, Ms. KAYESS noted that during the COVID‑19 pandemic, engaging persons with disabilities through digital platforms was very helpful to the Committee’s work. Noting that inclusion of persons with disabilities in communities is key to their full development, she stressed that they experienced increased vulnerability in segregation and isolation She added that it is critical to include persons with disabilities’ perspectives in response and recovery mechanisms in all planning processes. The Committee has supported States on measures they can take to assist local development of affordable and effective aids and equipment for people with disabilities, including sports equipment for their right to sport and pleasure. Also speaking were representatives of Malaysia, Portugal, Greece and Syria. An observer for the Sovereign Order of Malta also spoke.
FABIAN SALVIOLI, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, underscoring the role of transitional justice in crises and violence, called for a victim-centred approach. Transitional justice helps to reveal systemic issues such as inequality, discrimination, and impunity, while shedding light on abusive structures and people who benefit from them. Moreover, transitional justice has the potential to uncover the roots of conflict and violence. However, transitional justice on its own cannot bring about change, he cautioned, calling for other interventions in the area of peace to complement work on the ground. The framework of the Sustainable Development Goals establishes links between justice, development, and security, he noted, stressing the importance of Goal 16 on the access to justice.
Presenting his report, he stressed the need to place victims at the heart of the justice process and recognize their experiences. Citing recognition as a key driver of change, when connected with effective participation and redistribution, he turned to reparations, namely the potential to make a significant difference in the lives of victims. To this end, he called for a comprehensive approach to reduce the negative effects of structural marginalization as well as exhaustive research of harms suffered by all victims. He also stressed the need for youth-centred approaches, noting that preventive strategies must include the individual and collective experience of young people – key actors in prevention and psychosocial response. Stressing the importance of preventing long-term violence, he underscored that the Sustainable Development Goals can only be met if victims of grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law are not left behind.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, the representative of the United States welcomed the report’s linking of transitional justice with the Sustainable Development Goals and its focus on evidence gathering. The United States is committed to seeking accountability for the Russian Federation’s atrocities and human rights violations in Ukraine and is working closely with Ukraine on evidence gathering. Turning to the High Representative, he inquired about his recommendations to establish an evidence-finding mechanism at the United Nations.
The representative of Argentina reflected on her country’s recent past and its road to truth, justice and reparations. This work was not only grounded in fulfilling her country’s obligations, but also in political will to bring those responsible for the darkest pages in its history to justice. Reparations need to go beyond economics and towards satisfaction, restitution, and the guarantee of non-reoccurrence. She asked what the High Representative saw as exemplary cases of survivor reparations.
The representative of Switzerland underlined the important role that victims need to play in reparation processes. She asked the High Representative what he would recommend to encourage victim participation in United Nations bodies in New York and Geneva. Moreover, she shared her country’s contributions to the Human Rights Council resolution on conceptualizing transitional justice as a strategic tool in peace and sustainable development, focusing on women, youth, and mental health.
The representative of Croatia, associating with the European Union, underlined the importance of truth and victim-centred approaches in making post-conflict development more inclusive, equitable and peaceful. Croatia has developed a comprehensive framework addressing sexual violence and other crimes in war, she said spotlighting the High Representative’s visit to Croatia last year. She asked him how to better address youth engagement, besides through psychosocial support.
The representative of Belgium, associating with the European Union, raised concern about the growth of authoritarian regimes, whose favourite tools are exclusion, division and violence. Intersectional forms of marginalization make access to justice even more difficult. Underlining the importance of integrating victims, survivors and youth in policy decisions, he asked the High Representative if he could share good practices of youth-centred approaches and psychosocial support.
The representative of Colombia shared her country’s experiences, stating that, currently, victims are at the heart of its approach and are given a visibility that was not seen before. Given that her country had many positive things to share as well as lessons learned, she asked how to improve experience-sharing between countries.
The representative of the Russian Federation said the link in the High Representative’s report between transitional justice and the Sustainable Development Goals seems artificial. Moreover, he rejected the notion that there is an increased need for biased international organizations and politicized international judicial bodies, whose loose norms lead to interference in States’ internal affairs. National justice should hold perpetrators to account, he said, adding that giving sexual minorities reparations baffles him. The United States speculated about his country’s criminal responsibility, but that country has eluded responsibility for crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq and is now participating in atrocities committed by the Kyiv regime.
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, said that, considering attempts to challenge the international system and polarize the world, collaborative and inclusive approaches to transitional justice are paramount. In that vein, he asked the High Representative how to shift the thinking of parties in conflict towards human rights.
Responding first to the statement of the Russian Federation, Mr. SALVIOLI said he disagreed with the delegate’s assessment that the link between transitional justice and the Sustainable Development Goals is artificial. If the Sustainable Development Goals, as the most important agenda of the United Nations, fail to consider victims of human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law, the international community will not achieve the Goals.
Various delegations have stressed that transitional justice should be comprehensive, he said. He has been supporting this idea for many years, he added, emphasizing that five pillars must be supported — trust, memory, justice, reparation and the guarantee of non-reoccurrence.
Regarding the issue of impunity, he pointed to his report on accountability, human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law that he presented to the Human Rights Council last year. The world has sufficient history in human rights law to make clear that impunity is not acceptable, including amnesty laws or pardoning perpetrators.
Responding to Argentina, he agreed that economic reparation was not enough and that psychosocial support was indispensable. Following grave human rights violations, victims end up with disabilities. That kind of support is part of what States need to provide. Regarding intersectionality, he said that Colombia has done a good job of addressing forms of discrimination, suggesting that the representative of Argentina look at case law of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Responding to the question on how to give a platform to victims, he said victims’ voices must be heard independently of who they are or who their perpetrators were. These mechanisms should also include confidence-building and psychosocial support, including waiting until victims are ready to talk instead of forcing them to speak when mechanisms need to hear from them.
In addition, he voiced great concern regarding the increase in hate speech and inflammatory rhetoric, which can negatively affect youth. Intergenerational work, considering what happened in the past and focusing on what is going on in the present, was indispensable, he said, naming Spain as a good example of this. Lastly, he pointed to next year’s high-level forum on the Sustainable Development Goals as an opportunity to address transitional justice in that framework and exchange good practices.