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Third Committee Delegates Call for Solidarity in Tackling Fallout from COVID-19, Denounce Unequal Vaccine Access, Heavy Toll on Vulnerable Communities

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GA/SHC/4316

GENERAL ASSEMBLYTHIRD COMMITTEE
SEVENTY-SIXTH SESSION, 3RD & 4TH MEETINGS (AM & PM)

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its general debate today, with delegates expressing concerns about the economic and social toll exacted by COVID-19 on the free expression of human rights and drawing attention to the ways their countries are working to meet the needs of the most vulnerable as they emerge from the crisis.

Pointing to the widening gap in vaccine distribution between the global North and South, representatives from developing countries called for more solidarity, among them, Cuba’s representative, who said that until August, more than 80 per cent of the doses globally available were used in high-income countries, even though they represent much less than half the global population.

The representative of China, speaking on behalf of 73 countries, similarly pointed to access challenges encountered by developing countries. He called for vaccine equity, expressing concern over the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women, children, young people, migrants and persons with disabilities.

“The monopoly of vaccines by developed countries is unacceptable,” said Nicaragua’s representative, one of many to declare that vaccines must be seen a common good of humanity. Uganda’s representative likewise condemned the holding back of vaccines at the expense of poor countries, which should be a “wake-up call” for developing nations to become more innovative and reduce their dependency on developed countries. Nepal’s delegate as well emphasized that the pandemic “knows no borders” and called for universal access to vaccines.

Speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Trinidad and Tobago’s delegate expressed regret over the erosion of hard-won development gains, noting that the pandemic’s socioeconomic impact has forced Caribbean countries to reallocate resources. He emphasized that protecting the rights of children is a priority for all CARICOM Governments and that children and youth should have the opportunities and tools they need to reach their full potential.

The representative of Austria condemned persecution, discrimination and violence against minorities, urging Member States to convene a high-level meeting on that issue in September 2022. Emphasizing that free speech is an essential right, he said Austria will present a resolution on the safety of journalists later this year.

Several delegations gave the floor to youth representatives, with the young speaker from Slovenia citing recent research that 30 per cent of his country’s youth population reported signs of depression and mental health issues. The youth delegate from Bulgaria outlined a set of priorities for her country’s young people.

Various representatives described policies to address the needs of refugees and migrants, with Uganda’s delegate noting that his country maintains an open-door policy towards refugees. It now hosts more than 1.4 million people who have fled from elsewhere, making it the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa and among the top three in the world. However, hosting refugees poses enormous challenges to local host communities. Calling for more equitable burden-sharing in line with international commitments, he urged the global community to tackle the root causes of displacement.

On that point, El Salvador’s representative expressed concern that some States exclude migrants from their COVID-19 responses. She called on States to guarantee that all migrants will have access to diagnostic tests, treatments and vaccinations. “Vaccine nationalism has no place in this world,” she stressed. Access must be a priority.

Also speaking today were representatives of Luxembourg, Poland, Estonia, Brazil, Indonesia, Oman, Armenia, Iran, Hungary, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, Republic of Moldova, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Ukraine, Colombia, Cameroon, Bahrain, Malaysia, Slovakia, Romania, Viet Nam, Dominican Republic, Nigeria, Yemen, Burkina Faso, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Thailand, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Denmark, Azerbaijan, Jamaica, Mali, Rwanda, Czech Republic, Maldives, Georgia, Jordan, India, Honduras, Albania, Malta and Portugal.

The Permanent Observer for the Holy See also spoke.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of Yemen, Belarus, Japan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The Third Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Monday, 4 October, to continue its general debate.

Statements

ZHANG JUN (China), delivering a joint statement on behalf of 73 countries, said the coronavirus outbreak, one of the greatest challenges in the history of the United Nations, has had a severe impact on all spheres of human society, including exacerbating poverty and hunger. He expressed concern over the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women, children, young people, migrants and persons with disabilities, especially those in vulnerable situations. Warning against hate speech, stigmatization, racism and xenophobia related to the pandemic, he reaffirmed the right of every human being, without distinction, to enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. “The pandemic knows no borders,” he asserted, emphasizing that the solution lies in global solidarity and multilateral cooperation to ensure protection for those most affected, measures to counter misinformation and stigmatization, and in promoting vaccine accessibility and affordability through bilateral and multilateral channels. He pointed out, however, that vaccine equity is still far from being reached, stressing that developing countries in particular lack adequate access to available and affordable vaccines. He went on to warn against vaccine nationalism and the stockpiling of doses.

DENNIS FRANCIS (Trinidad and Tobago), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and associating himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said COVID-19 has increased the hardships of those in already vulnerable situations, a challenge requiring an all-inclusive response. Regrettably, the hard-won gains on the path to development have been eroded, he said, noting that socioeconomic impacts have forced Caribbean countries to reallocate resources. Emphasizing that protecting the rights of children is a priority for all CARICOM Governments, he said children and youth should have the opportunities and tools they need to reach their full potential, including by bridging the digital divide. He went on to state that Governments are designing and implementing programmes to advance the goals of zero hunger, gender equality, peace, justice and strong institutions, stressing that home environments should give equal opportunities to girls and boys.

OLIVIER MAES (Luxembourg), endorsing the European Union statement, said the protection of human rights is a priority for his country. In that regard, he invited other countries to support Luxembourg’s application for membership of the Human Rights Council. Listing his country’s priorities for the protection of human rights, he emphasized the urgent need to promote the rule of law and human rights defenders, citing in particular the situations in Myanmar and Syria. He added that the risk of reprisals against human rights defenders in Afghanistan is particularly high. Expressing that civil society continues to be sidelined during United Nations meetings, he said described it as a “precious source of ideas to achieve peaceful democratic societies”. Stressing his country’s support for the protection of women’s rights, he welcomed the momentum created by the Gender Equality Forum. He went on to announce that Luxembourg and the European Union will present a resolution on the protection of children’s rights.

KRZYSZTOF MARIA SZCZERSKI (Poland) announced that his country plans to contribute about $190,000 to the World Food Programme (WFP) to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. He said that, as an initiator of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, Poland will continue to promote the rights of children. Emphasizing the importance of financing the human rights pillar of the United Nations, particularly during the pandemic, he suggested that States move away from reliance on voluntary contributions and increase funding for human rights through the United Nations regular budget. He went on to express concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, pointing to that country’s denial of access to humanitarian convoys. Poland is also concerned about the dire human rights situation and threats to fundamental freedoms in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol, as well as the Russian Federation’s repression against supporters of the territorial integrity of Ukraine and Georgia, he stressed.

ANDRE LIPAND (Estonia), touching upon violence against women and girls amid the coronavirus pandemic, emphasized that the need to empower women and girls is a priority in her country’s human rights practice, and addressing challenges relating to the protection of children. Pointing out that a journalist is killed every five days on average, he stressed that access to information and freedom of expression, including media freedom, are key, as is the indispensable role of human rights defenders. She went on to express concern about the human rights situations in Afghanistan, Belarus, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, as well as in Syria. Reiterating the importance of upholding international law, she demanded that in Belarus “all political prisoners must be released immediately, all perpetrators of the crimes must be brought to justice and punished, democratic elections must be held”.

RICARDO DE SOUZA MONTEIRO (Brazil) said that the world is facing the most serious health emergency in living memory, characterized by increasing hunger, growing unemployment and poverty. After initial difficulties, Brazil’s vaccination campaign has gained traction, he noted, reporting that infections have been falling week after week, and 236 million shots have been administered so far, prioritizing health workers and indigenous peoples, among other groups. Soon, the Government expects to be able to assist the vaccination efforts of other countries, he added. In order to mitigate the economic toll, Brazil initiated an emergency income distribution programme, securing financial support for those most in need during the most acute phases of the pandemic. He went on to state that his country is engaged in the fight against religious intolerance and that the pandemic has exacerbated attacks against religious communities. Brazil has moved to counter growing threats to those groups, he added.

MOHAMMAD KURNIADI KOBA (Indonesia), endorsing the statements of China and ASEAN, said the pandemic has underlined the need for global solidarity. Deploring vaccine discrimination, he called for a strong multilateral partnership to build back better. Referring to Myanmar, he said ASEAN member States have provided support to the refugees and reiterated the 5-Point Consensus developed by ASEAN members to address that crisis. Indonesia rejects any form of discrimination and racism, and advocates for the prevention of violence against children, he emphasized. Pointing out that more than 200 million migrant workers have been impacted by COVID-19, he urged the international community to protect them and their families. He went on to draw attention to the need to fight against cybercrime and the importance of genuine international cooperation on human rights.

ALEXANDER MARSCHIK (Austria) condemning the persecution, discrimination and violence against minorities, he urged Member States to convene a high-level meeting on that issue in September 2022. Emphasizing that freedom of speech is an essential right, he said Austria will present a resolution on the safety of journalists later this year. He stressed the need to protect women’s rights, reiterating his country’s commitment to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and to the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action. Sharing the concerns of Austria’s United Nations Youth Delegate, he expressed regret for the pandemic’s negative impact on global youth. He went on to stress that Austria remains focused on fighting transnational crimes, in particular trafficking in persons, as well as cybercrime. The upcoming negotiations of the ad hoc committee “would ensure that a future convention on cybercrime becomes an effective tool for international cooperation among law enforcement and judicial bodies, in line with international human rights standards,” he said.

RAHMA KHALFAN SALIM RASHID AL ABRI (Oman) said her country has developed its health sector and is proud to have a high level of health care as well, and the ability to respond to global health challenges. Technical and medical services are provided to all citizens, she added. Emphasizing that children’s rights have always been Oman’s priority, she said her country is also working actively to protect civil, social, educational rights against all types of violence and exploitation. Women in Oman enjoy quality education, as well as work opportunities that allow them to participate in the economic, social and political spheres, she noted. Oman is also prioritizing young people, who are “the root of all society”, participating in development plans, socioeconomic development and scientific competitions, she said. The world is witnessing a technological revolution, she noted, while warning against its risks, such as cybercrime, abuse of data, and falsification of documents.

MHER MARGARYAN (Armenia) said his country is prioritizing equal participation by women in public life and attaches particular importance to their economic empowerment. As a leader of the Action Coalition on Technology and Innovation, Armenia will promote meaningful access to digital technologies for women and girls, with a view to bridging the digital divide, he added. The cornerstone of international human rights law, he noted, is the empowerment of people to freely determine their economic and cultural development, reflecting the interlinkage of the right to self-determination and the exercise of human rights and freedoms. He went on to recall that on 27 September 2020, aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh was accompanied by grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law, including extrajudicial killings, torture and mass displacement. That large-scale military aggression, which sought to supress the right to life, has only increased human aspirations to self-determination, he emphasized.

MOHAMMAD GHORBANPOUR NAJAFABADI (Iran) stated that large-scale human-rights violations have become more routine, pointing to “the seemingly unending war on Yemen” and ethnic cleansing in the Occupied Palestinian Territory by the “despotic Israeli regime”. He also expressed concern for the people of Afghanistan, particularly the displaced, noting that the situation in that country “clearly demonstrates the true face of the United States” and others who invaded two decades ago under the pretext of fighting terrorism and upholding human rights. Emphasizing that the right to development is fundamental, he condemned the imposition of inhumane, illegal, unilateral, coercive measures by the United States — especially during the pandemic — and described any claim that humanitarian goods are exempt from sanctions as “a terrible lie”.

ZSUZSANNA HORVÁTH (Hungary) said her country has chaired the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe since May 2021 and has compiled a five-point priority package that closely relates to issues on the Third Committee’s agenda. Emphasizing that Hungary is deeply committed to advancing religious freedom universally, and to standing up for persecuted Christians, she recalled that it was among the first countries to join the International Religious Freedom Alliance, in February 2020. To combat child poverty, she said, Hungary has provided free child catering, since September 2015, for all nursery and pre-school children, if they receive a regular child protection allowance; live in a family with three or more children; are chronically ill or disabled; have a chronically ill or disabled child in their family; or if their family has a net monthly income per capita that does not exceed 130 per cent of the net minimum wage. Hungary is also committed to the rights of persons with disabilities and its National Disability Programme for 2015-2025 defines the main development directions of disability policy for a longer period, she said. To protect young people, she added, the Digital Child Protection Strategy entails regulations and measures to protect children and increase their awareness of online risks, while encouraging them to stay offline.

PETER MOHAN MAITHRI PIERIS (Sri Lanka), associating himself with the Group of 77, underlined that the international community needs to build back better by integrating a rights-based approach in line with the United Nations Charter. Sri Lanka is committed to its obligations of ensuring a safer and more secure society for its people. He indicated that its Constitution recognizes the principle of gender equality and non-discrimination and that the Government promotes women-friendly policies. During the pandemic, Sri Lanka continued to ensure the protection of the basic rights of its people by limiting education disruption. He went on to spotlight the country’s universal health care coverage, which was critical during the COVID-19 vaccination campaign and reaffirmed its commitment to human rights and to building back better.

BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) stressed the need to address the most pressing human rights issues, noting that scrutiny is vital to help States uphold their obligations. The United Kingdom condemns racism in all its forms and is committed to the elimination of racism, including anti-Semitism, xenophobia and related intolerance, she asserted, adding that her country will continue to support mechanisms to tackle racism, including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The United Kingdom is also committed to taking action to uphold human rights worldwide, she said, underlining that its human rights sanctions regime is a powerful tool to hold to an account those responsible for serious human rights violations and abuses. Since 2020, the United Kingdom has imposed sanctions on 78 individuals from ten countries. Freedom of religion, gender equality and the rights of LGBTQI individuals remain a priority, she said, reiterating her country’s commitment to promoting gender equality and the rights of women and girls, including sexual and reproductive health and at least 12 years of quality education for all girls. Underscoring the need to call out attempts to silence debate, target journalists or spread misinformation, she warned against infringement of human rights under the pretext of tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.

BOŠTJAN MALOVRH (Slovenia), associating himself with the European Union, said the pandemic disproportionately threatened the lives, rights and well-being of older persons. To proactively address the issue of age discrimination, Slovenia — along with Argentina and Brazil — submitted a Human Rights Council resolution on the rights of older persons and, further, Slovenia will host an international conference on ageing and intergenerational cooperation in November. He also stressed that gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls must remain at the center of global efforts to build back a better and more equal world and that, in addressing the global environmental crisis, recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is essential to protect human life, well-being and dignity.

LUCIJA KARNELUTTI, youth delegate from Slovenia, pointed to a clear, worrying set of challenges that young people are facing as a result of the ongoing pandemic, most of which are connected to individuals’ economic situation, education and mental health. Citing recent research showing that 30 per cent of Slovenia’s youth reported signs of depression and mental health issues, she said this increase results from limited access to mental-health services stemming from social distancing and other measures taken to address COVID-19. She added that, in that context, online learning is unsustainable and called for education to be prioritized to ensure a smooth transition into the “new normality”.

AUGUSTINA ȘIMAN (Republic of Moldova) reaffirmed her country’s support for global COVID-19 recovery efforts, with a strong focus on vulnerable groups and respect for fundamental human rights. Expressing concern about the pandemic’s social and economic repercussions, as well as deepening inequality, she pointed out that lockdown orders around the world increased cases of violence against women and girls, and that domestic violence, as well as the switch to online learning, severely restricted the right to education. She went on to spotlight the continuous human rights violations perpetrated by the separatist regime in the Transnistria region of the Republic of Moldova, where human rights defenders are persecuted, the space for civil society is severely limited and there is virtually no freedom of expression. The regime has used the pandemic as a pretext to impose further restrictions on the exercise of human rights, she said, also expressing concern about human rights abuses in conflict-affected areas of eastern Ukraine, including the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol, as well as the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

LACHEZARA STOEVA (Bulgaria), associating herself with the European Union and the LGBTI Core Group, said the COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts have been damaging for human rights, as well as efforts to realize the 2030 Agenda. Outlining her country’s commitment to promoting and protecting rights, including the online and offline rights of children, she recalled that Bulgaria presented a joint statement on the elimination of child labour during the last session of the High-level Political Forum. She also drew attention to national efforts to support the rights of women and girls, including their sexual and reproductive health, and rights.

KRISTIANA TODOROVA, Youth Delegate, then outlined a set of priorities for Bulgaria’s young people, including access to quality education and health care, and climate change. “While COVID has wreaked havoc on our physical health across generations, its impact on us, the youth, seems to be especially damaging,” she said, citing mental health repercussions, challenges in accessing education and an increased focus on the fragility of national health systems. She voiced support for efforts to train education specialists in the skills and knowledge needed to integrate innovation, twenty-first-century skills, as well as civic and environmental education into curricula. She also spotlighted the impact of climate change on human health, a greater source of concern — and a driver of engagement — for young people than ever before.

SONG KIM(Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) observed that Western countries are seeing a sharp increase in social inequality amid the global health crisis and human rights violations such as xenophobia, maltreatment of refugees, human trafficking and forced labor. Those countries try to question and admonish victims at the United Nations and try to impose Western values based on the “law of the jungle”, disregarding the present-day world where different history, cultural, lifestyle and developmental levels coexist. The confrontation between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and hostile forces over the issue of human rights represents a face-off between justice and injustice, with the hostile forces seeking regime change under the pretext of human rights. In fact, his Government gives its people’s rights and interests the highest priority, he emphasized, citing the construction of thousands of houses that were allotted free of charge; school food programmes; and free medical care for its citizens.

PHILIP OCHEN ANDREW ODIDA (Uganda), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said his country has made steady progress in the areas of women’s empowerment, access to health care, education and the provision of safe water, among others. Noting that the world is currently witnessing an unprecedented level of human mobility — due to factors including armed conflicts, poverty, food insecurity, terrorism and human right abuses — he said Uganda maintains an open-door policy towards refugees and now hosts more than 1.4 million people who have fled from elsewhere, making it the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa and among the top three in the world. However, hosting refugees poses enormous challenges to local host communities, which must be addressed through international solidarity, he emphasized. Calling for more equitable burden-sharing in line with international commitments, he also urged the global community to address the gap between humanitarian and development assistance, and to tackle the root causes of displacement. He went on to condemn the withholding of vaccines at the expense of poor countries, saying it should be a “wake-up call” for developing nations to become more innovative and reduce their dependency on developed countries.

JAIME HERMIDA CASTILLO (Nicaragua), associating himself with the Group of 77, said the global health crisis is undermining existing efforts to overcome the problems and challenges caused by the capitalist, oppressive system of exploitation. “The monopoly of vaccines by developed countries is unacceptable,” he said, noting that it is necessary to declare the vaccines a common good of humanity. The pandemic must be tackled with cooperation and solidarity, avoiding the politicization of vaccine distribution. Turning to drugs and crime, he said Nicaragua recognizes the full validity of all United Nations conventions on drugs and is engaged in the fight against drug trafficking from Colombia to the United States. Calling for serious cooperation to be established with Central America in that regard, he went on to note that safe and orderly migration is hampered by Western countries. Millions of people from developing countries migrate with the illusion of finding better opportunities in developed States, where they are actually rejected and have their human rights violated.

OLEKSIY ILNYTSKYI(Ukraine) expressed concern over worsening human rights situations in many places, particularly in neighboring Belarus, where a “de facto Anschluss of Belarus” by the Russian Federation is part of the latter’s policy of “swallowing Belarus and transforming it into a new military base, similar to occupied Crimea, to destabilize Europe”. Further, the constantly deteriorating human rights situation in the Russian Federation continues to cause concern for the international community, as the Kremlin brutally suppresses peaceful political protests, kills or imprisons opposition leaders and manipulates the electoral process. Noting that Ukraine has been struggling with the Russian Federation’s armed aggression for eight years, he said over 25,000 people have been wounded, up to 15,000 have been killed and 1.5 million have fled their homes. The indigenous Crimean Tartars have been especially targeted by the occupying Power, he added, noting that searches, arrests and imprisonment are a daily reality in Crimea.

GUILLERMO ROQUE FERNANDEZ DE SOTO VALDERRAMA (Colombia) highlighted his country’s efforts to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, including its adoption of a $1.7 billion budget to support most vulnerable households. It also extended the national solidarity plan until December 2022 and aims to have 70 per cent of its population vaccinated by the end of 2021. Outlining initiatives aimed at empowering women and fighting violence, he said that through its long-term road map, Colombia seeks to become a leader on gender equality by 2030. Regarding children’s rights, he went on to say that every child should have access to nutrition and education. Colombia has become the sixty-third country to prohibit all forms of corporal punishment against children. On migration, he indicated that the Government has granted temporary refugee status to 2 million Venezuelan refugees to protect them from trafficking. The country also promoted the inclusion of indigenous groups by creating a permanent bureau for consultation and is implementing the International Decade for people of African descent by delivering workshops and trainings to local communities.

MICHEL TOMMO MONTHE (Cameroon), associating himself with the African Group and the Group of 77, said the pandemic is a reminder of the importance of human rights. He underscored the importance of infrastructure, asking whether people could fully enjoy the right to education without schools, the right to health without hospitals, and the right to justice without a court. In that context, he underlined the need to help developing countries consolidate their infrastructure so that human rights can be enjoyed. Cameroon has made notable progress in advancing literacy, reducing poverty and ensuring salary equality between men and women, he underlined, adding that his country is determined to punish, when necessary, all human rights violations committed on its territory, as demonstrated by the recent case in which soldiers received prison sentences for killing civilians in the village of Zelevet.

Ms. FUTOON ALAMMADI (Bahrain) said the world is suffering the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has still not had its last word. Tireless efforts must be deployed in line with international criteria and the World Health Organization (WHO)’s recommendations to ensure the safety of all. Bahrain has devoted $12 billion to its citizens in that regard, providing free quarantine centres and guaranteed free treatments and vaccines for both foreigners and citizens. Noting that WHO recently opened an official office in the country, she said women’s rights are a national priority manifested through legislation. Bahrain is celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the establishment of its Supreme Council of Women, which helps women to bolster their roles within their families and society, on an equal footing with men. The country has also signed a statement to bolster its cooperation with the United Nations and recast its human rights plan, with civil society helping to define the plan’s priorities.

AZRIL BIN ABD AZIZ (Malaysia), associating himself with the Group of 77, Non-Aligned Movement and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), noted that the world’s public health systems and socioeconomic situation remain under immense strain amid COVID-19. Noting that all people in Malaysia, including migrants and undocumented foreigners, have access to testing and vaccination, he called for renewed international solidarity to narrow vaccine equity gaps. The Government has disbursed eight strategic stimulus packages that have benefited over 20 million people, he noted, highlighting gender-responsive policies, such as cash assistance for single mothers, child-care subsidies and flexible work arrangements. Also pointing to many selfless acts from ordinary Malaysians, he added that his country continues to house hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees and provide them with assistance, including COVID-19 vaccination.

MICHAL MLYNÁR (Slovakia), endorsing the European Union’s statement, expressed regret over the proliferation of populism and hate speech and called for urgent measures to address intolerance within societies. Raising concerns about the deterioration of human rights in Afghanistan for women and girls, he stressed that human rights violations should not go unpunished. He then advocated for the protection of free speech for journalists, underlining their vital role. “All journalists should be able to work without fear or intimidation,” he emphasized. The situation deserves a continued attention, he added, calling on Member States to act. He concluded by emphasizing the importance of youth and requesting action to address discrimination. He welcomed young people’s participation in the Third Committee.

Mr. DRAGOS HOTEA (Romania), aligning himself with the European Union, stressed the importance of seizing the moment to reimagine economies, societies and political systems. Freedom of expression is an important enabler of other fundamental rights, he stressed, also denouncing abuses of that freedom to spread hate speech, racism and xenophobia. “Romania stands up for independent and fear-free reporting,” he said, calling on the international community to monitor and sanction hate-related incidents, including online. Also underscoring the importance of gender equality, he noted that his country has created the positions of Expert in Gender Equality and Gender Equality Technician to support the implementation of local and national women’s empowerment strategies.

DINH QUY DANG (Viet Nam), associating with the Non-aligned Movement and ASEAN, stressed that all States should strengthen global solidarity and jointly promote fair, affordable, equitable and universal distribution and production of vaccines worldwide. Emphasizing the need to eradicate poverty and provide education and universal health care, he said human rights should be promoted through a constructive, non-confrontational and non-politicized approach. Viet Nam’s socioeconomic programmes aim at fostering economic growth and improving living standards. As a result, the poverty rate fell to 2.75 per cent and health insurance coverage increased to nearly 91 per cent in 2020. At the global level, he reiterated Viet Nam’s commitment to cooperate with the United Nations, especially the Independent Experts of the Human Rights Council.

JOSÉ ALFONSO BLANCO CONDE (Dominican Republic), associating with SICA and Group of Friends of Older People, said his country has experience in peaceful and democratic political transformation, which recognizes the rule of law and good governance as being essential for development. He expressed concern over the increase in gender violence and child abuse unleashed by the pandemic, as well as the alarming increase in early and forced marriages. In the Dominican Republic “Law 21”, prohibits child marriage. Sustainable development is not possible if young people face barriers to their education and work-related development. They must be able to raise their voices freely, without being attacked because of their positions or the work that they do. The protection of civic space is particularly important in this regard and goes hand-in-hand with the recently launched global report “If I Disappear,” which describes the harassment faced by young people.

EGRISELDA ARACELY GONZÁLEZ LÓPEZ (El Salvador) called for a world that is better for everyone, incorporating gender perspectives, as well as an economic response to eradicate poverty. Stimulus packages must be available for everyone. Development should be people-focused, participatory and based on rights, as is provided for in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. While health is a basic human right, many people are excluded from health care systems, due to legal and political frameworks that limit their access, making it difficult to obtain care for COVID‑19. Access to the vaccine must be a priority, she said, expressing concern that some States exclude migrants from their responses. She called on States to guarantee that all migrants will have access to diagnostic tests, treatments and vaccinations. “Vaccine nationalism has no place in this world,” she assured.

NNAMDI OKECHUKWU NZE (Nigeria), aligning himself with the African Group and the Group of 77 and China, underlined the unacceptability of the current state of access to COVID-19 vaccines, stressing that the international community cannot afford a situation in which “a handful of countries keep the global vaccine supply to themselves at the expense of other nations”. Turning to the centrality of education in the global agenda, he said Nigeria will continue to advocate for inclusive, quality education for all, and he invited Member States to participate in the Fourth International Conference on Safe Schools to be held in Nigeria in October. He added that, over the years following the Fourth World Conference on Women, Nigeria has gradually, but consistently, mainstreamed women in all sectors, including in the decision-making processes of both public and corporate entities.

SARAH AHMED AHMED AL-MASHEHARI (Yemen) stressed that despite efforts made by the Government and international organizations, militias are doing all they can to prevent the provision of humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable. “They are continuing this absurd war,” she said, perpetrating murders and violations against children. They targeted 60,000 children and forced them into “holiday camps”, consisting of ideological training and teaching them how to murder and hate. The militias are committing grave crimes against humanity, she asserted, urging the international community to break the silence, and to grasp the scale of the tragedy threatening the Yemeni people. Yemen has created a national committee to investigate human rights violations, she noted, expressing concern that the Human Rights Council report lacks credibility. Calling on the international community to act urgently to lift the blockade and bring an end to the attacks, she voiced concern that Yemeni women have been the target of arbitrary detention, rape and torture, while civilians and people living in refugee camps also have been targeted.

SALAMATA ODETTE NIAMBA CONGO (Burkina Faso), associating with the African Group, Group of 77 and the Non-Aligned Movement, said that despite the health and security context of her country, the Government has undertaken various actions to help the most vulnerable. Burkina Faso is working to improve people’s income, ensure the empowerment of young people and attain gender parity in education. Policies are in place to provide free care to children under age five, as well as to pregnant women. The promotion of women’s rights is vital, she said, pointing to initiatives aimed at improving their access to drinking water in rural areas, as well as to land, health care, local government and decision-making. Burkina Faso has created centres for women and girls who are victims of violence, along with a free number to call that was established in 2021. The Government is also focused on nutrition in schools to ensure that every child has at least one free meal per day.

AMRIT BAHADUR RAI (Nepal), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, pointed out that human rights form the bedrock of his country’s Constitution, which is based on equality, non-discrimination, justice and the rule of law. Further, the rights-based approach is at the core of Nepal’s development endeavors. Detailing a variety of domestic policies, including those aimed at safeguarding human rights and promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment, he stressed that the safety, security and well-being of migrant workers remains Nepal’s highest priority. On this, he called for effective implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration “to make migration work for all”. Adding that the COVID-19 pandemic “knows no borders”, he underscored the need to ensure universal access to vaccines, to guarantee social security and to safeguard cultural freedom “at these trying times”.

BASSAM SABBAGH (Syria) said international solidarity is not at the level needed, as some Governments, which say they pursue human rights, instead monopolize vaccines on the international market. Combating COVID-19 requires international efforts based on solidarity. Coercive measures that run counter to the Charter of the United Nations and violate people’s rights have only worsened the situation. He called for fully respecting international law, in particular the territorial integrity of countries, as well as self-determination for people living under colonial or foreign occupation. He underscored Syria’s commitment to recovering the occupied Syrian Golan, noting that any steps to undermine this are null and void. He highlighted Syria’s support for Palestinians and their right to self-determination, stressing that his country has faced flagrant attacks on its sovereignty and scandalous interference in its domestic affairs.

AHMED KAMIL RHAIF ALBU-MOHAMMED (Iraq) said his country has taken measures to secure the health of its citizens during the pandemic, particularly the most vulnerable. It has provided financial aid to citizens in need, particularly persons with disabilities, the elderly, women without other support and those who have been displaced due to terrorism. On human rights, he noted that Iraqi women have faced many difficulties due to terrorism. The Government is working with international organizations and civil society groups to guarantee, through law, that Iraq has better practices that improve economic conditions for those impacted by terrorism, including Yazidi women. Iraq is committed to holding legislative elections on 10 October 2021, to reflect the aspirations of the people. Palestine and its inalienable rights will remain one of Iraq’s priorities, he added.

ALEJANDRO GONZÁLEZ BEHMARAS (Cuba) denounced the lack of solidarity demonstrated by unilateral coercive measures and the selfishness imposed by the current global order. The pandemic uncovered existing inequalities, he stressed, adding that until August 2020, more than 80 per cent of the doses available globally were used in high-income countries, despite that these nations represent much less than half the global population. If the international community aims to preserve the progress made globally on gender equality, eliminating racism and intolerance, and in protecting the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples, a new, more just and democratic international order, based on multilateralism and solidarity, must be established. Universal coercive measures have a negative effect on human rights and development, he said, drawing attention to the economic and financial blockade imposed by the United States, systematically violating the United Nations Charter, international law and the human rights of Cubans. For more than six decades, the United States has not ceased its policy of hostility, he asserted, pointing out that Cuba is included on the list of countries that supposedly sponsor terrorism.

Mr. HAJI MOHAMMAD (Kuwait), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Non-Aligned Movement, urged the global community to learn lessons from the devastating COVID‑19 pandemic and redoubled efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Underlining the need to support vulnerable communities, he said the world has witnessed the outstanding contributions of youth in the fight against COVID‑19. Recalling that the Constitution of Kuwait states that “People are equal in human dignity, and they are equal before the law in public rights and duties” and prohibits discrimination between them, he said Kuwaiti women have played important roles in building the modern State and are at the forefront of national efforts to combat COVID-19. Kuwait also promotes the diversity of cultures and religions and works to end persecution, intolerance, hatred and racism around the world.

SUPARK PRONGTHURA (Thailand), endorsing the statements by ASEAN, the Group of 77 and China, and the Non-Aligned Movement, said it is important to address the challenges posed by the pandemic and climate change “by building resilience through hope”. Advancing the fight against COVID-19 will require international cooperation and solidarity, which are equally important for ensuring the equitable distribution of vaccines. He welcomed discussions on a possible international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response. Placing people at the centre of all efforts will ensure the protection of human rights, human dignity and fundamental freedoms. To this end, Thailand remains committed to improving gender equality and women’s empowerment — crucial for achieving an inclusive and sustainable recovery — and to ensuring the right to education. He highlighted the need to keep pace with evolving global challenges, including criminal networks. He announced that Thailand will present its third-cycle universal periodic review report in November in Geneva and called for turning “this crisis into an opportunity by integrating human rights into the recovery efforts”.

Mr. KASSAYE (Ethiopia), associating with the Group of 77 and China, Non-Aligned Movement and the African Group, said the pandemic has compromised social development gains as manifested in vaccine distribution, which is leaving Africa behind. It is necessary to take swift measures to ensure access to essential services for vulnerable groups, and he stressed the importance of alleviating absolute poverty. Ethiopia attaches great importance to the equal rights of women and enhancing their economic and political roles, he said, adding that progress has been registered in expanding employment opportunities for women. He called on the international community to condemn the use of terrorist tactics, child soldiers and the mass killing of civilians by the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) terrorist group that has destabilized Ethiopia. In a similar vein, he urged humanitarian organizations to respect Ethiopian law and adhere to the core humanitarian principles of impartiality, independence, and neutrality.

GABRIELE CACCIA, Permanent Observer for the Holy See, said social support systems have been strained, access to health care limited even further, and many have lost wages due to COVID-19. Migrants have endured job loss, travel restrictions, discrimination and xenophobia, while older persons have suffered vulnerability to COVID-19 as well as isolation. Social protection schemes should focus on the help families need, as many have faced increased financial stress and disruptions in schooling. Troubling reports indicate that COVID-19 has caused an uptick in violence against women while limiting access to necessary support services and reporting mechanisms. Emphasizing that indigenous peoples are often among those hit hardest by crises — whether poverty, COVID-19 or climate change — he said their cultural, political, economic, social and human rights are often undermined. As natural resources are extracted and indigenous lands destroyed, indigenous peoples are forced to migrate, exposing them to trafficking, enslavement and sexual exploitation.

BAKHTIYOR IBRAGIMOV (Uzbekistan) said his country has taken measures related to freedom of speech and media, freedom of religion and gender equality. It has developed a new strategy aimed at strengthening the role of civil society, protecting human rights and achieving sustainable development. Its large-scale democratic reforms have become irreversible. On gender, Uzbekistan plans to radically increase the role of women in public affairs and the economy. Protecting young people’s rights is another key focus, as young people make up half of the population. The Government will also continue to work to reduce the number of stateless persons. Citing the national mechanism for the prevention of torture, he said such crimes will not have a statute of limitation.

MARTIN BILLE HERMANN (Denmark), associating with the European Union, said the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the ultimate agreement to ensure human dignity. Yet, rights continue to be denied to many, he said, expressing concern over violations in many corners of the world. When rights and freedoms are taken away, the international community must not look away. Such acts leave civil society and rights defenders in danger and undermine the very fabric of society. Women and girls in many places do not have the right to make decisions about their bodies and about whether they want to have children, he said, noting that discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation persists. Pointing out that torture is still applied by authorities in many countries, he said Denmark continues its fight against such abuse.

NARMIN AHANGARI (Azerbaijan), noting that her country launched an immunization campaign in mid-January 2021 said it also released a socioeconomic stimulus package worth almost $2.7 billion to support the COVID-affected population and entrepreneurs. Stating that “the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been left in the past”, she recalled that there is no administrative territorial unit called Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan. Highlighting that people’s needs and priorities will be Azerbaijan’s focus during post-conflict reconstruction — including securing the livelihoods and dignity of internally displaced people — she said Azerbaijan is committed to reintegrating citizens of Armenian origin residing in conflict-affected territories into political, social and economic life, as well as ensuring the same rights and freedoms for all citizens. Nevertheless, the massive mine contamination in the liberated territories seriously impedes plans for the rehabilitation, reconstruction and return of internally displaced people.

BRIAN CHRISTOPHER MANLEY WALLACE (Jamaica), associating himself with the Group of 77 and CARICOM, said the world is facing increasing uncertainties as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge the global economy. In the case of Jamaica, where the economy is driven by the services sector, the hope of building resilience requires that people’s health and well-being remain at the core of all recovery efforts. Welcoming support from the COVAX Facility, he called for a globally coordinated approach to scaling up production and equitable distribution of vaccines as a global common good, as well as increased innovation, investment and research and development in the global South. Jamaica is enhancing psychological support to parents and caregivers and strengthening shock-responsive social protection strategies for households struggling with economic fallout. He also praised the recent establishment of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent, voicing support for universal recognition of the need for reparatory justice.

ISSA KONFOUROU (Mali), associating with the Group of 77 and the African States, said economic recovery from the pandemic requires that human rights be protected. Welcoming the COVAX Facility’s provision of fair access to vaccines throughout the world, particularly for developing countries, he said the health crisis offers the opportunity to “build back better”, to reduce unemployment and poverty and to provide social protections. Nationally, Mali has always concentrated on human capital and development. The transitional Government is focused on investment in natural resources and on reducing the social divide. Mali faces many challenges and is working to improve national solidarity. Access to health care is a priority and authorities are strengthening implementation of the law on universal health coverage. On the humanitarian front, Mali is working with its partners in neighboring countries to alleviate the situation of Malian refugees.

ROBERT KAYINAMURA (Rwanda), recalling that the national Vision 2050 had lifted more than 1 million citizens out of poverty before the pandemic, said COVID-19 has triggered increasing inequality and reversed development gains worldwide. This requires social and economic policy-making to build back better, he said, pointing to Rwanda’s new policies to foster financial inclusion, in line with the 2030 Agenda. To regain lost progress, the world must redouble its efforts, including in advancing gender balance at the United Nations. For its part, Rwanda adopted a national economic recovery plan that mainstreams gender and is working towards becoming an upper-middle income nation by 2035 and a high-income country by 2050, notably through tailored programmes to bridge the gender digital divide. While welcoming the Secretary-General’s latest reports on human rights issues, he voiced alarm at Western countries’ judicial interference in related matters of developing nations, which is in sharp contrast to the rule of law and must decisively be addressed. Another pressing problem stems from the pandemic’s impact on deepening education inequalities, he said, emphasizing that universal connectivity and closing the digital divide in schools is vital to protect gains in child education and to ensure that the world’s children keep learning through COVID-19.

MIROSLAV KLÍMA (Czech Republic), noting that his country has increased its financial contributions to human rights mechanisms, reiterated the need to strengthen funding through regular budgeting. The pandemic is a global human rights issue, he said, voicing concern over the state of human rights in Belarus, where the regime is escalating its attacks against the opposition, human rights defenders, journalists and activists. He called for the immediate release of all those arbitrarily detained. In the Russian Federation, civil society organizations and independent media continue to be targeted, he stressed, drawing attention to the deteriorating human rights situations in the illegally annexed republic of Crimea. In a similar vein, he strongly condemned recent violations against journalists, human rights defenders and minorities by the Taliban in Afghanistan, emphasizing that Afghan women and girls deserve to live in safety and dignity and must be able to participate fully in Afghan society.

THILMEEZA HUSSAIN (Maldives) said the pandemic highlighted the necessity of an inclusive recovery that reaffirms gender equality. In Maldives, despite the deep fiscal impact of the COVID-driven reduction in tourism, the Government initiated a basic safety net for the most vulnerable people by providing income support, debt moratoriums and tax relief programmes. Turning to climate change, she stressed that, for a small island developing State like Maldives, small climatic shifts inflict devastating consequences on the economy, the infrastructure and the people. In the face of increased risks of flooding, food insecurity and displacement, and as adaptation costs impose ever-increasing budgetary burdens, Maldives requires access to quick, effective and affordable climate financing and technical assistance to realize the Sustainable Development Goals, she said. Furthermore, gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda must entail the recognition that women and girls are disproportionately susceptible to climate change and natural disasters.

EKA KIPIANI (Georgia), noting her country’s recent efforts to strengthen human rights, highlighted the national human rights strategy and the drafting of a national action plan. Work has commenced on two stand-alone action plans relating to women, peace and security, as well as on combating violence against women, she added. Further, the Parliament of Georgia ratified the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, she said, and is now establishing a national coordination mechanism for its implementation. Also reaffirming Georgia’s commitment to protecting the rights of the child, she added that despite repeated calls by the Security Council, the Russian Federation continues to violate human rights in Russian-occupied parts of her country.

MAHMOUD DAIFALLAH HMOUD (Jordan) said despite the progress made in increasing the participation of women in economic life and strengthening their rights, the pandemic has impacted Jordan enormously. Nonetheless, Jordan has adopted numerous policies to bolster women’s economic opportunities and passed several amendments to its legislation, in particular on equal pay for equal work, as well as the establishment of day cares in offices and places of work. In addition, Jordan’s army, in cooperation with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), has launched a national strategy to increase women’s participation in the most senior ranks. Noting that children under 18 represent more than 40 per cent of the population, he said Jordan has adopted polices to teach and protect children, with authorities working to guarantee their creativity and to prepare them for taking an active role in society.

ASHISH SHARMA (India), associating with the Group of 77, said India is implementing the world’s largest Government-sponsored health-care programme, covering more than 500 million people. Gender equality and women’s empowerment is a priority, he asserted, adding that India is changing the paradigm to women-led development. Respect for human rights is deeply rooted in Indian civilization and every religion is represented in the country. The international community must avoid turning the Human Rights Council into a platform for politicization, he stressed, calling for genuine dialogue, as well as for independence and impartiality of the mandate holders. He warned against justifying terrorism on any grounds and expressed concern about new forms of religious phobias — anti-Buddhism or anti-Hinduism, for example — that must be urgently tackled. He condemned attempts by Pakistan to exploit United Nations platforms to spread falsehoods against India.

ISABELLA REGINA RIVERA REYES (Honduras), noting how the COVID-19 brought the entire world to its knees, stressed the importance of preparing contingency plans in advance to deal with similar health emergencies. Lamenting that a lack of preparation cost too many lives, she said it is essential to eliminate the inequity in the international health system, especially as demonstrated in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Calling for the creation of an emergency fund into which everyone contributes in order to ensure fair access to vaccines or any other medicine, she said that 2020 was a disastrous year for Honduras. Highlighting the Government’s humanitarian response plan, she also noted her country’s candidacy for the Human Rights Council.

ENIAN LAMCE (Albania) called for cooperation, solidarity, enhancing human rights, building more resilient societies and establishing responsive health systems. Respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of all individuals is a precondition for lasting peace. He stressed the importance of conflict prevention, peacebuilding and sustainable development, calling advocacy for human rights meaningless without participation of women and girls and noting that Albania pays special attention to women’s rights and gender equality. He advocated for better protection of human rights defenders to ensure their voices are heard, stressing also that freedom of religion must be protected, everywhere. Youth delegates then took the floor to stress that young people, as an underrepresented group, have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Voicing concern over employment opportunities, they encouraged all Member States to include young people in constructive conversations about COVID‑19.

VANESSA FRAZIER(Malta), associating herself with the European Union, said women and girls must be involved in COVID‑19 recovery plans, which should ensure their enjoyment of all human rights. Malta will continue to fight against the social marginalization and discrimination of LGBTIQ persons, and to address their needs and rights, shepledged. Noting that older persons are meanwhile at risk of abuse, neglect and lack of social protection, she said those threats were regrettably further heightened by the pandemic. She called upon all partners to enforce their efforts to prevent discrimination, seek justice and ensure that older persons are able to realize their human rights. She went on to express support for freedom of religion or belief and for the rights of the child, saying her country remains fully committed to the protection of children and their right to education. If entrusted to serve as an elected member of the Security Council in 2023‑24, Malta will prioritize education, literacy and digital technology on its agenda, she said.

Two Youth Delegates took the floor, saying “This is not the first time we have seen young people trying to combat human rights violations and attempting to propel the change the world needs. In 1988, they recalled, Malta was at the forefront on climate action when it proposed to include the Conservation of Climate as part of the Common Heritage of Mankind, a battle spearheaded by young people. Calling for equal access to justice and remedy for those affected by the climate crisis,they also expressed strong support for action on gender equality and access to education, as well as the meaningful civic participation of youth.

FRANCISCO DUARTE LOPES (Portugal), associating with the European Union, said that as the pandemic surged, his country sought to prevent domestic violence, protect job security and strengthen social benefits. Vaccinations offer hope that the world will overcome the pandemic and they should be considered common public goods. Stressing that human rights are interdependent and interrelated, he said economic, social and cultural rights have been those most impacted by the pandemic. The right to education must be respected, including in emergency contexts. During the current session, Portugal will co‑table a resolution on the human rights of young persons to ensure that they are at the centre of the Committee’s agenda. The voices of civil society also must be heard and their meaningful participation guaranteed. Noting that Portugal opposes the death penalty and abolished it more than 150 years ago, he pointed out that in some countries, death sentences have recently resumed or increased. Action must be taken to introduce a moratorium on executions, as a first step, he said.

Right of Reply

The representative of Yemen, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that, even though Iran denies its destructive role in training and financing the Houthi forces, it is clearly creating armed militias in Yemen and thereby undermining human rights. Drones were used to attack and kill civilians in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, he said, adding that the absurd war flies against Council resolutions and international law. Denouncing the statement by Iran’s delegate, he called upon that country to stop exporting terrorism.

The representative of Belarus condemned use of the term “regime” in reference to a sovereign State as unacceptable. “Some delegates continue to use terms that lack respect and then they are astonished we do not want to communicate with them,” he said, calling for respectful and fair dialogue. Rejecting the statements by the European Union and Ukraine, he emphasized that the Foreign Ministry of Belarus has provided good explanations regarding the alleged human rights violations.

The representative of Japan, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said his country aims to eliminate racial discrimination. There is no such policy that allows discrimination against Korean residents in Japan, he stressed, adding that the Government is working to eliminate discriminatory speech against persons originating outside Japan. He called on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to work together towards a bright future.

The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea rejected all allegations against his country, stressing that Japan works hard to cover-up its past crimes against humanity. He called Japan “the worst war criminal state in the world”, urging the country to compensate for its past.

The representative of Japan called remarks by the representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea “groundless”. He urged that country to return all abductees to Japan as quicky as possible.

The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea spoke a second time in exercise of the right of reply, in response to Japan, saying the so‑called abduction issue has been resolved. The Japanese Government has continued to manipulate that issue to lead attention away from its past war crimes, he asserted, emphasizing that crimes against humanity have no statute of limitation. Japan needs to stop its discriminatory practices against Koreans resident in Japan or there will be no bright future between the two countries, he warned.

For information media. Not an official record.