General Assembly Adopts Resolution Establishing Independent Institution on Missing Persons in Syria, as Speakers Debate Text’s Merit
Prior to adopting two draft texts by consensus, the General Assembly voted on a contentious resolution that created a new mechanism to respond to the missing persons crisis in Syria, with some speakers arguing it could contribute to national reconciliation and sustainable peace and others stressing that, not only was Damascus not consulted, but the mechanism interferes with Syria’s internal affairs.
By a recorded vote of 83 in favour to 11 against, with 62 abstentions, the General Assembly adopted the draft resolution “Integrated and coordinated implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences and summits in the economic, social and related fields” (document A/77/L.79), establishing the Independent Institution on Missing Persons in Syria.
The representative of Luxembourg, introducing the text, noted that official figures point to 100,000 missing persons, but that the real number is probably much higher. The new Institution will reinforce complementarity and avoid duplication, while ensuring coordination and communication with all relevant actors of the ongoing initiative. “This resolution does not point finger at anyone. It has only one goal — and it is a humanitarian goal,” he stressed.
However, the representative of Syria stressed that the co-sponsors of the resolution established a bizarre mechanism that has no terms of reference, and will be used as a cover tool to exert more pressure on Syria. Further, his country has processed all claims on a national basis and has conducted independent investigations based on Syrian law. He also pointed out his delegation was not invited to take part in any discussions or consulted.
Echoing that, the representative of Iran also voiced regret that the Syrian Government was not consulted at any stage of the process, adding that the instrumentalization of the United Nations undermines its credibility as an international body established to protect and promote its goals through dialogue and international cooperation.
Countering that, the United States delegate recalled that the core group and the United Nations attempted to engage with Damascus on this effort, but their efforts were rebuffed. The Institution seeks to defend those people who are missing and/or detained “with the full life yet to live”, he said, adding: “They are not statistics. They are spouses, children, siblings, parents, friends, colleagues.”
The representative of Argentina, along with several speakers, acknowledged her country’s first-hand national experience. The word “missing” has a deep meaning in her country and combating forced disappearances is one of Argentina’s priorities, she said, noting her vote in favour of the text.
Brazil’s representative, expressing regret that the negotiation process was not sufficiently inclusive, said that his delegation voted in favour due to its concern with human rights and its commitment to promoting memory truth at all levels.
Other Member States noted their abstention, with El Salvador’s delegate expressing concerns about the Institution being an added burden to the United Nations budget, and Lebanon’s representative, despite her country’s bitter experience of people having gone missing during its civil war, noting that the nature of the mechanism was unclear.
Also today, the General Assembly adopted without a vote the draft resolution of the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) in its report “Comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects”. By the text, the Assembly endorsed the proposals, recommendations and conclusions of the Special Committee and decided that it will continue its respective comprehensive review.
In other business, the General Assembly turned to the question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and other matters related to the Council and took up a letter of the Assembly’s President, dated 22 June. It then adopted the oral draft decision without a vote.
Addressing the matter, Csaba Kőrösi (Hungary), President of the General Assembly, said Member States have stirred new life into the intergovernmental negotiations process and achieved measurable progress on tackling the question of equitable representation in the Security Council. “Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises,” he said, encouraging delegations to work together in good faith.
Many delegations voiced their support for the decision, with some spotlighting the advancement of the intergovernmental negotiations process and welcoming its technical innovations — including the website repository — while others reiterated the importance and urgency of the wider Security Council membership.
In this vein, the representative of Belarus called for a greater representation of developing countries, including an additional seat for the Eastern European Group. As well, Bahrain’s delegate reiterated the Arab Group’s call for a permanent seat in the event of any future expansion of the Council, as well as for the Group’s proportional representation in the category of non-permanent seats.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, speaking on behalf of “L.69” group comprising cross-regional developing countries, united by a common desire for reform of the Security Council, noted that, while this process should not be rushed for the sake of arriving at an outcome, it is crucial to begin seeing tangible results. “The world needs a Security Council that can adequately address the rapidly evolving challenges to international peace and security,” she emphasized.
The General Assembly will meet at 10 a.m. on Friday, 30 June, to continue its work.
Independent Institution on Missing Persons
The General Assembly took up the draft resolution “Integrated and coordinated implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences and summits in the economic, social and related fields” (document A/77/L.79).
By the text, the Assembly, stressing the need for a framework to respond to the missing persons’ crisis in Syria, decided to establish the Independent Institution on Missing Persons. The Independent Institution, among other things, shall ensure participation and representation of victims, survivors and the missing persons’ families, including women’s organizations and civil society, and shall apply a victim- and survivor-centred approach. Further, the Assembly requested the Secretary-General — with the support of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) — to develop, within 80 working days of the resolution’s adoption, the Independent Institution’s terms of refence and takes steps necessary to establish this Institution. It also requested the Secretary-General to report on the resolution’s implementation within 100 days of its adoption, while reporting on the Independent Institution’s activities on an annual basis.
OLIVIER MAES (Luxembourg), introducing the draft resolution, said that, for over a decade, families from all parts of Syria have been trying to find out what happened to their loved ones, while facing financial uncertainties and deep trauma in the process. Official figures point to 100,000 missing persons, he reported, noting that the real number is probably much higher. The new Independent Institution will reinforce complementarity and avoid duplication, while ensuring coordination and communication with all relevant actors of the ongoing initiative.
The draft resolution is a result of an inclusive and transparent process, he said, adding that all Member States will be able to contribute by providing their best practices. “This resolution does not point finger at anyone. It has only one goal — and it is a humanitarian goal,” he stressed, noting that the Independent Institution can contribute to national reconciliation and lasting peace. Recognizing that Syrian families are not giving up, despite the ordeal they had suffered every day for years, he emphasized: “We owe it to these families to act decisively and to act now.”
The representative of Syria, speaking in explanation of position before action, said this resolution clearly reflects interference in Syria’s internal affairs and the continued hostile approach of some Western countries, foremost of which is the United States. The co-sponsors of the resolution established a bizarre mechanism that has no terms of reference, with its funding coming from Member States through the regular budget. This will be used as a cover tool to exert more pressure on Syria. His country has processed all claims on a national basis and has conducted independent investigations, based on Syrian law. Rejecting the politicization of this issue, he stressed that his delegation was not invited to take part in any discussions or consulted, adding that he rejected attempts to mislead public opinion and make others think Syria was involved in consultations. He also cautioned other delegations about the risks that go along with establishing such a mechanism, which can be used as a precedent to target any Member State, especially developing ones. He called on Member States to uphold the values of the Charter of the United Nations and stand up to attempts to interfere in Syria’s internal affairs and support its sovereignty. He asked that all Member States vote against this resolution in order to preserve the Assembly’s creditability.
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, said the resolution would help clarify the fate and whereabouts of all missing people in Syria and provide adequate support to victims, survivors and families. It is a humanitarian issue that must be dealt with urgently, she stressed, recognizing the work already carried out by organizations to keep records of those who have gone missing and affirming that the new institution must consolidate that extensive work and contribute to reconciliation and sustainable peace.
The representative of Venezuela, speaking for the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations, stressed that its participation in today’s meeting “should in no way be construed as willingness to cooperate with the so-called institution”. He expressed concern about the growing politicization of human rights and the proliferation of unilateral mechanisms against sovereign States. Citing the ambiguity surrounding the text, he said the Group of Friends rejects the establishment of any mechanism or institution that does not serve the higher interests of the Syrian people. Speaking in his national capacity, he stressed that the General Assembly should not be used for political purposes.
The representative of Guatemala said her delegation would vote in favour of “L.79”. Since its creation, her country has shown its support for the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to assist in the investigation of the most serious crimes committed in Syria. “The Mechanism makes it possible to examine the experiences of the victims and the civilian population most affected in the conflict,” she noted. The resolution will help ensure effective accountability with the participation of survivors and their families.
The representative of the United States said the Institution seeks to defend those people who are missing and/or detained “with the full life yet to live”. “They are not statistics. They are spouses, children, siblings, parents, friends, colleagues,” he said. Pointing to the humanitarian nature of the draft resolution, he recalled that the core group and the United Nations attempted to engage with Damascus on this effort. However, they were rebuffed.
The representative of Uruguay, expressing support for the draft resolution, recalled that from 1973 to 1985 a military regime existed in his country. Recognizing the importance of an instrument to search for the missing persons, he said the Independent Institution should not duplicate the work of other organizations. However, it should receive information from the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said the draft resolution is an example of politicization, selectivity and double standards. “This resolution is nothing but an outcome of a politicized agenda pursued by the Western countries,” he stressed. Noting that it will be used as a political weapon against Syria’s Government, he said he will vote against the draft text.
The representative of China, expressing his opposition to politicization of human rights issues, said the draft resolution attempts to use United Nations resources to establish a new mechanism without fully listening to all Member States. The resolution does not identify the source of funding for this mechanism and reflects unilateral pressure on the Syrian Government, as well as interference in its internal affairs. The resolution would spend $15 million over the next two years on this mechanism, money that could be spent on capacity-building in Syria.
The representative of Nicaragua, voicing regret that the Assembly is politicizing human rights, said that the resolution shows Western countries’ double standards against the sovereignty of some States. This mechanism would be created without consulting Syria. The Assembly is acting beyond the bounds of the Charter. The United Nations should preserve its credibility and not approve this resolution.
The representative of the Russian Federation said any humanitarian activity and search for missing persons must be carried out at the request of the State involved. Yet, the States that co-sponsored this resolution did not consult with Damascus, he pointed out, questioning how the entity would intend to act. Member States are being asked to take an illegal decision that violates the Charter and creates an instrument of pressure against Syria on a humanitarian pretext. His delegation would vote against it as it does not help the Syrian people.
The representative of Cuba, aligning himself with the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter, said selectivity, along with politicization of human rights issues and humanitarian affairs, continues to be used against developing countries. He called for an end to the punitive approach and double standards, as coercive unilateral measures exacerbate political confrontation. With this new institution, there would now be three international United Nations mechanisms concerning Syria — all with a politicized approach.
The representative of Egypt expressed concern that “the draft resolution has not specified the exact terms of reference of the proposed institution”. The text contains vague references to obligations of States under international law to cooperate with the proposed Institution and does not indicate the fate and whereabouts of the information and data to be collected for the purposes of the proposed Institution. As a result, he noted that Egypt would abstain.
The Assembly then adopted “L.79” in a recorded vote of 83 in favour to 11 against, with 62 abstentions.
The representative of Colombia, speaking in explanation of position after action, said that her country has suffered first hand “the scourge of missing persons”. She also added: “Truth is a key component for reconciliation,” noting that it is the pain of the victims’ families that motivated Colombia to vote in favour of the resolution.
The representative of Argentina said that the word “missing” has a deep meaning in her country, while combating forced disappearances is one of Argentina’s priorities. Noting that her country voted in favour, she said she would have preferred negotiations to be more participatory and seek broader consensus, while also ensuring Syria’s participation. She expressed concern that the resolution does not define a timeframe or the Instrument’s contribution to existing mechanisms.
The representative of Chile said he voted in favour, while noting that his country has seen first hand the impact of forced disappearance during its civic-military dictatorship. He underscored that clarifying the whereabouts of missing persons can only be possible through cooperation with Syrian authorities.
The representative of Brazil said his delegation voted in favour of the resolution because of its concern with human rights and its intent to promote memory truth at all levels. He expressed regret that the negotiation process was not sufficiently inclusive. The United Nations must respect Syria’s independence and help bring peace to its people.
The representative of Iran said the instrumentalization of the United Nations undermines its credibility as an international body established to protect and promoting its goals through dialogue and international cooperation. He voiced regret that the Syrian Government was not consulted at any stage of the process, adding that Government did not requested technical or legal assistance from the United Nations and has rejected the establishment of such a body without its consent.
The representative of Japan called on Syria to cooperate with the activities of the Institution, rather than reject the international community’s efforts to help its citizens. The funding is contingent on the Institution’s full operation. He asked for full information on its activities, adding that he hoped the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) and Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) will approve its budget in accordance with the Institution’s actual operations.
The representative of Iraq stated that his delegation abstained due to his commitment and conviction in the sovereignty of States and their territorial integrity. The success of any such mechanism requires coordination with the country concerned. By bolstering its national organizations and coupling the efforts of civil society and the international community, it is ensured that justice prevails and light is shed on the fate of missing persons.
The representative of Belarus, aligning himself with the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter, reported that his delegation did not take part in consultations on the draft resolution and voted against it, rejecting its very concept, “based on a biased country-by-country approach”. He asked why this topic is of such concern only in relation to Syria, recalling reports of 85,000 missing children along the United States’ southern border and missing women and children in dozens of other hotspots.
The representative of Lebanon said her country has had a bitter experience of persons going missing during a civil war that tore it apart. In Beirut, any exhibition features photos of people who have gone missing since 1982. As well, the country is working to repatriate all Lebanese detainees in Israel or the remains of those who lost their lives. Lebanon abstained due to the unclear nature of the mechanism, she added.
The representative of El Salvador, voicing solidarity with all families who have lost members during the Syrian conflict, added that her delegation abstained on the resolution, as the institution does not provide sufficient information on how it will work. She appealed for greater efficiency in the use of resources in multilateral fora, stressing that this Institution is an added burden on the budget of the United Nations.
Right of Reply
The representative of Syria, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that the United States’ statement was full of false allegations, while also expressing regret about the adoption of the resolution. “It is not by consensus that we are setting up the mechanism,” he stressed, noting that less than half of Member States supported it. “We will not cooperate with any future activities of this Institution,” he emphasized.
Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization)
The General Assembly took up a draft resolution of the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) in its report, “Comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects” (document A/77/401/Add.1).
The resolution was adopted without a vote.
By the text, the General Assembly endorsed the proposals, recommendations and conclusions of the Special Political and Decolonization Committee, while urging Member States, the Secretariat and relevant United Nations organs to take necessary steps to implement them. It also reiterated that those Member States that become personnel contributors to the peacekeeping operations or that participate in the Special Committee for three consecutive years as observes shall become member at the following session of the Committee. Further by the text, the Assembly decided that the Special Committee shall continue the comprehensive review of the peacekeeping operations, review the implementation of its previous proposals and consider any new ones, while also requesting the Committee to submit a report on its work to the Assembly at its seventy-eighth session.
The representative of Israel, speaking after action, said she needed to comment on the draft resolution “L.75”, adopted on 14 June (document A/77/L.75). She expressed regret that the Palestinian delegation breached procedures, politicized the discussion and co-sponsored the draft resolution. Noting that the subject matter of this resolution is not within the parameters of resolution 52/250, she stressed the importance of abiding by United Nations procedural rules and co-sponsorship guidelines.
Security Council Reform
The General Assembly then turned to the question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and other matters related to the Council and took up a letter of the Assembly’s President, dated 22 June.
By the text of the draft oral decision on Security Council reform, the General Assembly — reaffirming its central role in the question of equitable representation on and increase in the Council’s membership — decided to continue intergovernmental negotiations on Council reform. It also decided to convene the Open-Ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation and on Increase in the Membership of the Security Council and Other Matters during the General Assembly’s seventy-eighth session — if Member States so decide — and include the respective agenda item in the session’s agenda.
General Assembly President Csaba Kőrösi (Hungary) said that, when the Assembly met last November, he spotlighted the changing dynamics on the Council and pointed out the complex crises that have placed the system under pressure. He added he supported urgent focus on this issue. Member States have stirred new life into the intergovernmental negotiations process and measurable progress has been achieved. For the first time, a dedicated website on Council reform has been established for the intergovernmental negotiations process. Working groups are meeting and there will be an open-house discussion on Council reform.
He acknowledged that these are not decisive breakthroughs, but useful steps. “Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises,” he said, adding that it is up to the Member States “to show political will for the change you want to see”. He urged the Assembly to deliver on the expectations of the 8 billion people outside the walls of the United Nations. “Let us work in good faith,” he said. “We do not have the luxury of spending another 17 years on this issue.”
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, speaking in explanation of position before action, spoke on behalf of the “L.69” group, a diverse, pro-reform group of cross-regional developing countries, united by a common desire for reform of the Security Council that safeguards its credibility, representativeness, transparency, democracy and effectiveness. She said the roll-over decision gives the Assembly an opportunity to transform the next session of the intergovernmental negotiations process. As the only formal outcome of the process, this year’s roll-over decision reflects improved working methods. The "L.69" will remain open and flexible to approaches that can bring the Organization closer to finding the widest political acceptance on Council reform. While this process should not be rushed for the sake of arriving at an outcome, it is crucial to begin seeing tangible results. “The world needs a Security Council that can adequately address the rapidly evolving challenges to international peace and security,” she said.
The representative of India, aligning herself with the “L.69” group and on the statement to come by the “Group of Four”, noted that there has been no breakthrough in the negotiations whatsoever. Her delegation joined consensus in adoption to acknowledge the personal efforts of the President of the General Assembly. However, it is now apparent that in its current form, the intergovernmental negotiations could go on for another 75 years without any genuine reform.
The representative of China said his delegation fully supports the draft, noting that convergence on reform is expanding while divergence is narrowing. He also welcomed positive progress in this year’s negotiations and called for maintaining the tradition of consensus at the General Assembly, which is crucial to the unity of Member States. As Security Council reform concerns war and peace, and there is no room for trial and error, he also called for increasing the representation of developing States and correcting the historical injustice concerning Africa.
The representative of the Russian Federation expressed support for the oral decision, while pointing to the fundamental differences of Member States. “The time has come to protect the intergovernmental negotiations format,” he stressed, noting that disagreements on the reform should not lead to the loss of its format.
The representative of Namibia, speaking for the African Union, implored the Co-Chairs to encourage Member States to build on the “framework document” to move the intergovernmental process forward, while also engaging with those States that did not populate the framework. He also urged the Co-Chairs to further develop the document by incorporating the elements reflected in the elements paper, while pointing to the wide support of rectifying the historical injustice to the African continent. Expressing support for the webcast repository, decisions and other documents related to the intergovernmental negotiations, he said the discussions with think-tanks should be maintained.
The representative of Belarus called for preserving the existing format of intergovernmental negotiations, while pointing to major divergences of Member States regarding membership categories in the context of the reform. Reiterating the call for a greater representation of developing countries, he would welcome the extension of the organ through an additional seat for the Eastern European Group. However, he said it is premature to carry out text-based negotiations to this end.
The representative of Egypt commended the efforts that led to the oral decision and towards more equitable representation of the Council. Spotlighting the group’s progress so far, he added that the creation of the website was not an easy feat. He also expressed support for the balanced outcomes that were a result of dialogue and welcomed an outcome that remedies the historical injustice that Africa has endured for decades.
The representative of Pakistan welcomed the innovations to the intergovernmental negotiations process, such as the webcasting of open sessions and creation of the website. These changes have increased the transparency and inclusivity of the process, as desired by many mid-size and small developing States. It would be unwise to dispute the intergovernmental negotiations process with the proposal of new modalities. A breakthrough can only be achieved through patient negotiations. The process should not be used as a vehicle to satisfy a few large States.
The representative of Brazil said his delegation supported the introduction of webcasting and a website to serve as a repository of all related documents. These steps are small, but a significant advance for the intergovernmental negotiations process. The process must break through from its repetitive regime. “The time of reform is upon us,” he added.
The Assembly then adopted the draft oral decision without a vote.
The representative of Japan, speaking in explanation of position after action, spoke on behalf of the “Group of Four” [Japan, Brazil, Germany and India], welcomed the revised Co-Chairs’ elements paper as a good summary of the current status of convergences and divergences. At the same time, most Member States are eager to go further, redoubling efforts to actually negotiate on such important issues as categories of membership, regional representation and the question of the veto. The remaining issues are contentious, and he called for a structured dialogue on concrete proposals submitted by Member States and groups.
The representative of Italy, speaking for Uniting for Consensus, noted the group joined consensus on the oral decision as it adequately reflects the discussions that occurred in the intergovernmental negotiations. He further welcomed the introduction of technical innovations — webcasting and a website — which enhance transparency and enable livelier discussions. The group has always advocated a consensual approach. This session also confirmed the urgency among the wider membership of reform of the Security Council, turning it into a more efficient organ with a greater number of non-permanent members.
The representative of Bahrain, speaking for the Arab Group, welcomed the adoption of the decision by consensus and underscored that the intergovernmental negotiations process is the only forum for reaching an agreement on Security Council reform. Reiterating the Arab Group’s position on a permanent seat in the event of any future expansion of the Council, he also called for the Group’s proportional representation in the category of non-permanent seats.
The representative of Cambodia, spotlighting the importance of the website repository, said that the consensus approach should be maintained in the future to negotiate Council reform.