Third Committee Debates Inclusivity, Migrant Rights, Business Accountability
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The UNGA's Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural) held its general debate on the promotion and protection of human rights from 13-30 October 2017, at UN Headquarters in New York, US.

Some States inquired about the value added of the proposed 2035 agenda on human mobility, with the 2030 Agenda and the UN Global Compact for Migration already being developed.

An Independent Expert said the IMF should “abandon its misguided prioritization of economic growth above all other considerations”.

October 2017: In an annual debate on human rights, experts stressed the need for preventive measures and accessible remedies to mitigate wide‑ranging challenges to human rights, the SDGs and global stability. They also called on governments and international organizations to take simple, practical measures to ensure inclusivity. Delegates also interacted with Special Rapporteurs regarding, inter alia: accountability of international financial institutions; the human rights of persons with disabilities, internally displaced persons, and migrants; and freedoms of expression, belief and religion.

The UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural) held its general debate on the promotion and protection of human rights from 13-30 October 2017, at UN Headquarters in New York, US. In an interaction with Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Member States raised questions and views regarding: the membership of countries with grave human rights abuses in the Human Rights Council (HRC); and improving the Council’s credibility (Latvia, US); increasing the representation of developing country staff at the High Commissioner’s office (China); ways to ensure space for civil society at the UN (Australia); the Office’s work to address the rising number of displaced persons (Azerbaijan); and protection of older persons (Argentina) on which Zeid noted “significant” normative gaps, and absent or weak national standards regarding age discrimination.

Several experts also addressed the Third Committee. Surya Deva, Chairperson of the UN Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, highlighted human rights abuses in the business sector. He noted that 17 countries have adopted national action plans on business and human rights, while 22 others are in the process of creating them. He added that global and regional frameworks can be useful because many abuses are transnational. Several delegates expressed concern over the exclusion of rights holders from mechanisms to create remedies. EU asked how individuals and communities can be empowered, and about the potential role of civil society in addressing power imbalances between corporations and rights holders.

Zamir Akram, Chair‑rapporteur of the Working Group on the Right to Development, said the Group held an interactive dialogue with stakeholders to assess SDG implementation “from a right to development perspective,” as well as informal consultations on criteria and standards for implementation of the right to development. Saad Alfaragi, Special Rapporteur on the right to development, reported that the HRC asked him to hold regional consultations on implementing the right to development. China stressed that, in order to fully realize the right to development, the imbalance in development between the global North and South should be rectified. The EU emphasized that the right to development is owed by governments to their citizens.

On gender, Taye‑Brook Zerihoun, UN Assistant Secretary‑General for Political Affairs, announced that the global average of women in the lower or single houses of parliament nearly doubled since 1997, but figures are still below the gender balance highlighted in the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action. Egypt for the African Group and a cross‑regional group of countries consisting of Belarus, Russia, and all member States of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) except Albania described as “divisive” a resolution establishing the mandate of the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Imposing “controversial notions” contradicts universality, he said.

Noting that some activities of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have come into conflict with UN human rights and development goals, Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, said the UNGA should propose practical measures “to bring those two institutions on board.” He said the World Bank and IMF should adopt smart lending practices that would benefit everyone, not just banks and speculators, adding that the IMF should “abandon its misguided prioritization of economic growth above all other considerations.” He added that human rights, health and environmental assessments should be carried out systematically before approval of any loan to a government or project. De Zayas said the impact of loan conditionalities on human rights is a legal question that could be addressed by the International Court of Justice.

The Special Rapporteur said data is needed to ensure that the SDGs account for IDP issues.

Cecilia Jimenez‑Damary, Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), said the number of IDPs has doubled since 2000, in many cases caused by conflict and violence. She noted that IDPs are increasingly being locked into protracted displacement for years or even decades. She added that she will work to ensure that IDPs are included in transitional justice processes, and that data is needed to ensure that the SDGs account for IDP issues.

Several experts addressed migration-related issues. Felipe Gonzales Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, emphasized that no migrant should be returned under bilateral readmission agreements without an effective pre‑return assessment and oversight by human rights monitoring mechanisms. Noting the existence of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Global Compact for Migration currently being developed, the EU, Switzerland and Morocco asked about the value added of the proposed 2035 agenda for facilitating human mobility. Similarly, Russia said the 2035 agenda is unnecessary as it would duplicate existing efforts to address migration. The Special Rapporteur replied that, given different levels of commitment by Member States, the UN sometimes establishes parallel mechanisms.

Bernard Duhaime, Chair of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, said Member States’ increasingly rigid migratory policies with a focus on deterrence expose migrants to human rights violations including enforced disappearance. Jose Brillantes, Chair of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, expressed concern that even as the world witnesses large migration flows, it lacks the political will to act. He observed that the majority of States that have ratified the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families are sending rather than receiving States.

Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, said girls and young women with disabilities continue to be sterilized against their will, which exposes them to greater threats of sexual exploitation. She called for ending all forms of violence, including forced abortion. Devandas Aguilar noted that governments have the obligation to protect the sexual and reproductive health and rights of girls and women with disabilities by: adapting legal and political frameworks; ensuring comprehensive sexual education; providing inclusive health services; empowering persons with disabilities; and involving persons with disabilities in decision-making. She stressed that disaggregated data on issues directly affecting disabled persons is vital to assessing progress in achieving the SDGs. UK welcomed the recognition that women and girls with disabilities face increased risks of exploitation and trafficking. Maldives expressed concern over the lack of participation of persons with disabilities in disaster risk reduction (DRR).

Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, called on States to repeal laws that discriminate on the basis of religion and belief. He emphasized the need to enforce criminal sanctions that penalize violent and discriminatory acts, and to protect religious minorities, women, children, people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual or intersex, migrants, refugees and IDPs. Shaheed noted that freedom of religion can only be achieved if it exists alongside the freedom of expression and the rule of law. He cautioned States against aligning themselves with specific religious groups, which feeds distrust. Urging the Special Rapporteur to consider the effects of education on countering intolerance, Russia said he has overstepped his mandate. Liechtenstein inquired how international mechanisms can be designed to mitigate religious intolerance resulting from migration. Brazil suggested that migration should be treated as an opportunity to foster religious tolerance. [UN Meeting Summary, 16 October] [UN Meeting Summary, 17 October] [UN Meeting Summary, 18 October] [UN Meeting Summary, 20 October] [UN Meeting Summary, 24 October] [UN Meeting Summary, 26 October]

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