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UN GA adopts 56 resolutions, 9 decisions recommended by 3rd Committee on broad range of human rights, social, cultural issues

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Sixty-fourth General Assembly
65th Meeting (AM)

Texts Address, Among Others, Child Rights, Right to Food, Year of Youth; Also Adopts Resolution on UN Cooperation with Shanghai Cooperation Organization

The General Assembly today adopted 56 resolutions and 9 decisions recommended by its Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), acting with new-found consensus on several historically contentious texts, including those on the rights of the child, the right to food and the report of the Human Rights Council.

By the draft on the rights of the child -- which, with notable support from the United States, achieved consensus for the first time in eight years -- the Assembly recognized the right of children to be heard on all matters affecting them. It also called on States to adopt or continue to implement arrangements for children's participation in all settings, to ensure the equal participation of girls and to address, in their responses to ongoing multiple and inter-related global crises, any impact on children's full enjoyment of their rights.

Also unanimous in reaffirming that hunger constituted an "outrage" that required urgent measures for its elimination, the Assembly adopted an updated text on the right to food, which described as "intolerable" the fact that, partly due to the food crisis, an estimated 1.02 billion people were now malnourished despite the planet's ability to produce enough food to feed the world. It encouraged States to ensure women's equal access to resources so they could feed themselves and their families and recognized State support for small farmers, fishing communities and local enterprises as a key element for food security.

By the draft resolution on the report of the Human Rights Council, which enjoyed consensus after two years of recorded votes, the Assembly took note of the report and acknowledged the recommendations it contained. Speaking after the text's adoption, Israel's representative said her delegation joined consensus despite growing concerns over the Council's working methods, in the spirit of constructive engagement and in the hope the Council would make a shift in its work.

Forty-seven other texts passed by consensus, including all of the drafts related to refugees, social development, advancement of women, children's rights, crime prevention and criminal justice and international drug control. Of these, several sought to shore up protections of and extend opportunities for youth, including a resolution aimed at improving the situation of the girl child and one that welcomed the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children as a set of orientations to help inform policy and practice.

In an effort to encourage young people to devote their energy, enthusiasm and creativity to economic, social and cultural development and the promotion of mutual understanding, the Assembly also proclaimed 2010 as the International Year of Youth: Dialogue and Mutual Understanding, beginning 12 August 2010. It also named 2011 as the International Year for People of African Descent and 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives. It decided to hold a commemorative meeting to mark the 15th anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action during the March 2010 meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women.

By a text on international cooperation against the world drug problem, the Assembly adopted the Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem, which was adopted at the fifty-second session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Among other things, it recognized that sustainable crop control strategies require international cooperation and should include preventive alternative development programmes.

As in years past, however, unanimity proved unattainable on several texts related to eliminating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other intolerance. The Assembly adopted a resolution on global efforts for the total elimination of those phenomena, which also addressed the implementation of and follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, by 128 votes in favour to 13 against, with 43 abstentions. (For further details, see Annex II.)

By that text, it expressed deep concern at inadequate responses to emerging and resurgent forms of racism and other intolerance and urged States to adopt measures to address these scourges with a view to preventing their practice and protecting victims. It also decided to implement the outcome of April's Durban Review Conference in the same framework and by the same mechanisms as the outcome of the original 2001 World Conference.

That outcome document was also welcomed in a draft decision on its adoption, which the Assembly passed with 166 votes in favour to 7 against (Australia, Canada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Netherlands, Palau and the United States), with 9 abstentions (Czech Republic, Georgia, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Tonga, and Vanuatu). (Annex III)

By a text on certain practices that fuel contemporary forms of racism and other intolerance, which was adopted by a vote of 127 in favour to 1 against (United States), with 54 abstentions, the Assembly noted the rise of skinhead groups and the resurgence of violence targeting members of ethnic, religious or cultural communities and national minorities, and called on States to put an end to those practices. (Annex I)

Consensus also faltered on two texts that addressed the human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (99 votes in favour to 20 against, with 63 abstentions, Annex XV) and Iran (74 in favour to 49 against, with 59 abstentions, Annex XVI), although, notably, no delegation called for a "no-action" motion on either text.

Despite adopting those country-specific drafts, the Assembly remained divided on their utility. Cuba's delegate echoed the Third Committee's sharp debate on that issue today when she said they ran counter to the principles of non-selectivity and non-politicization. She instead highlighted the Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review, which other States had argued was a more equitable and effective mechanism to address the human rights abuses that, they said, occurred in every country and over which no country or bloc had an exclusive right to pass judgment.

This emphasis on equitability was threaded throughout a number of other texts requiring recorded votes, many of which seemed to carry echoes of the widespread discontent felt throughout the international community this year in the wake of the global economic crisis.

By a draft on globalization and its impact on the full enjoyment of all human rights, adopted by a vote of 129 in favour to 54 against, with 3 abstentions (Brazil, Chile and Singapore), the Assembly called on Member States, United Nations agencies, intergovernmental organizations and civil society to promote equitable and environmentally sustainable economic growth for managing globalization, so poverty could be systematically reduced and international development targets achieved (Annex X).

The Assembly also affirmed the need for "equitable access to benefits from the international distribution of wealth", as well as the shared responsibility of all nations in managing the world's economic and social development by a draft on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, that it adopted with 127 votes in favour to 54 against, with 5 abstentions (Argentina, Armenia, Chile, Mexico and Peru) (Annex IX).

A text on combating defamation of religions received the most "no" votes of any text considered today, with 80 delegations voting in favour to 61 against, with 42 abstentions (Annex VIII). Debate on the text in the Committee had largely centred on tensions between the freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression, and how to balance them.

Speaking before today's vote on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Syria's representative underscored that nearly all international covenants and treaties emphasized the need to exercise freedom of expression with responsibility. In light of the fact that the "demonic" portrayal of Islam and Muslims had resulted in a situation whereby the Muslim identity had suffered tremendously, she called on States to take all possible legal and administrative measures to prevent anti-Islamic regulations.

Also today, the Assembly overturned the Third Committee's rejection of an oral amendment to a draft resolution on the International Covenants for Human Rights. Proposed in the Committee by Zambia on behalf of the African Group and today by Iraq on behalf of the Arab Group, that amendment eliminated a reference to General Comment No. 20 on non-discrimination in economic, social and cultural rights, which was issued earlier this year by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

In introducing the amendment, Iraq's delegate cautioned that including a reference to the general comment would recognize controversial concepts on sexual orientation. It was paramount, he said, to prevent international instruments from being "strangely interpreted".

Arguing against the amendment, the representative of Finland said it was quite usual for general comments to be noted in recent resolutions. Moreover, given the comment's opening statement -- that "discrimination undermines the fulfilment of economic, social and cultural rights for a significant proportion of the world's population" -- she wondered if the Assembly was prepared to excise reference to a comment that reiterated such an important principle. After the amendment was passed by a vote of 76 in favour to 72 against, with 26 abstentions (Annex VI), the Assembly adopted the amended draft as a whole with 185 States in favour to none against, with no abstentions (See Annex VII).

Also adopted by recorded vote today were texts on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination; the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination; national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights; human rights and unilateral coercive measures; enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights; right to development; promotion of equitable geographical distribution in the membership of the human rights treaty bodies; and human rights and cultural diversity.

Action on a draft related to the human rights situation in Myanmar was deferred, pending the review of the text's programme budget implications by the Fifth Committee.

Turning to other matters on its agenda, the Assembly considered an item on "Cooperation between the United Nations and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization", and adopted by consensus a plenary resolution of the same name, introduced by the representative of Uzbekistan on behalf of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. By the text, the Assembly emphasized the importance of strengthening dialogue, cooperation and coordination between the United Nations system and that organization. Among other things, it proposed that the Secretary-General hold regular consultations with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization's Secretary-General through the existing inter-agency forums and formats.

Speaking before the text's adoption, the Secretary-General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization said it aimed to encourage regional cooperation in areas like trade, energy, transport, agriculture, finance, information and communication technologies, science, customs, education, healthcare, environmental protection and natural disaster risk reduction. The organization's members had already made significant contributions to ensuring post-conflict reconstruction in Afghanistan and he hoped to step up those efforts with United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, in the interest of jointly carrying out projects in these areas.

Speaking in explanation of position during action on the Third Committee texts were the representatives of Bolivia and the Solomon Islands. Delegates from Myanmar, Cuba, Egypt and Argentina also spoke on procedural issues. The Rapporteur of the Third Committee introduced that body's reports.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Monday, 21 December, to consider the reports of its Second Committee (Economic and Financial).