Speakers highlighted the need for democratic rule in Myanmar, an end to extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, as the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its interactive dialogues on human rights.
One of seven experts and mandate holders briefing the Committee, Noeleen Heyzer, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General on Myanmar, stressed the catastrophic toll and severe impact the crisis in that country is having on its people. “Military operations continue with disproportionate use of force in Myanmar, including aerial bombings, burning of civilian structures, and the killing of civilians, including children”, she said.
People in Myanmar are no longer willing to accept military rule, she continued emphasizing the need for an inclusive process to lead Myanmar back to democracy. Outlining vital measures to be taken, she said they include an end to aerial bombing and burning of civilian infrastructure and delivery of humanitarian assistance without discrimination. The military must also release children and political prisoners, end summary executions and ensure the well‑being of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. In a similar vein, Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, presented a report on that topic (A/77/270), noting that such practises are witnessed globally. Urging concerned nations to investigate all cases, he called on States to avoid the excessive use of force, potentially resulting in the loss of lives, as recommended in his mandate.
During the ensuing interactive dialogue, the representative of Myanmar condemned summary executions committed by the illegal military, underlining the total lack of trial standards and due process, torture of detainees and arbitrary killings.
The representative of Armenia, pointing to the execution of a group of unarmed Armenian servicemen, called for a reliable investigative mechanism. Also stressing the need for independent investigations, the representative of Mexico spotlighted the need for protection of prisoners in extraditions to countries where a crime is punished by death.
Also addressing the Committee, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, expressed concern that States engage in peace work through a terrorism, rather than peace, lens. This displaces international legal frameworks and undermines grassroot participation, she said, adding that counter‑terrorism requires compromise, including by working with actors who have previously engaged in violence.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, the representative of Pakistan said that an unclear definition of terrorism has failed to distinguish between terrorism and self-determination, freedom of assembly and minority rights. Further, she expressed concern that, since the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, terrorism is unjustly associated with Islam.
The representative of Cuba asked what States could do to bring the United States to justice for its so‑called War on Terror, which resulted in extrajudicial killings and Guantanamo Bay prison, where 39 people are still arbitrarily detained. Responding, the representative of the United States said that the Government is currently making a transparent effort to transfer prisoners and close the Guantanamo Bay prison.
Also briefing the Third Committee today was Nazila Ghanea, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Livingstone Sewanyana, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order; Fernanda Hopenhaym, Chair of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises; and Attiya Waris, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights.
The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 26 October, to continue its consideration of human rights.
Interactive Dialogues: Freedom of Religion
NAZILA GHANEA, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, presenting the report of her predecessor, Ahmed Shaheed, on Indigenous Peoples’ rights under that topic (document A/77/514), noted that they comprise 476 million people worldwide. Indigenous peoples belong to over 5,000 groups, live in 90 countries, speak over 4,000 languages, and own, occupy or manage over one‑quarter of the world’s land, yet only enjoy secure tenure of 10 per cent of that land, she said. Stressing that they experience severe and systemic discrimination, hostility, and violence at the hands of both State and non‑State actors, she noted that they make up just 6 per cent of the global population, but account for some 19 per cent of the extreme poor. Further, the report details the obstacles they face in enjoying their right to freedom of religion or belief, stressing that they face State restrictions on their spiritual ceremonies, symbols and leaders. Noting that indigenous peoples are often disproportionately vulnerable to environmental crises and experience intersectional barriers, she pointed to the vulnerability of indigenous women to trafficking, sexual and gender‑based violence, and harmful practices. Highlighting the report’s recommendations to States and other key stakeholders to better protect the right to freedom of religion or belief by indigenous peoples, she said that States should develop holistic and human rights‑based solutions, facilitate access to ancestral territories and uphold the requirement of the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples in every measure that affects them. Turning to priorities for her mandate, she noted that freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief is often a poorly understood, violated and distorted right. The mandate will focus on entering into dialogue with States through received communications and welcome meetings to address issues, calling for technical assistance, she said.
The representative of the United States expressed concern over increasing anti‑semitism, anti‑Muslim discrimination, attacks on Christians and other religious groups. Adding that promoting accountability for all those committing violations against freedom of religion and belief is key, she called on China to immediately end atrocities against the Uyghurs and mistreatment of Tibetan Buddhists. Stressing the importance of practicing religion without harassment, she condemned the killing of peaceful protests against the mandatory religious headscarf. She asked how multilateral institutions can better protect freedom of religion or beliefs for indigenous persons when Governments use security concerns to restrict spiritual practices.
The representative of Indonesia rejected “inaccurate references” against her State in the report. In this regard, she cited the 2017 decision of Indonesia’s Constitutional Court enabling native beliefs to be included in the national identity register, fostering their recognition by the State. Questioning the credibility of the previous Rapporteur, she asked Ms. Ghanea to uphold the principles of impartiality, objectivity and accuracy.
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, said that calls on States to uphold freedom of religion or belief constitute an obligation to protect all individuals, including persons holding nontheistic or atheistic beliefs, belonging to minorities and Indigenous Peoples. Expressing concern about restrictions imposed against indigenous peoples in the area of freedom of religion or belief, he asked how to better protect this right going forward.
The representative of Pakistan, pointing to activities at the national and international level to promote the freedom of religion or belief and protect minorities, expressed concern over increasing islamophobia worldwide. She asked Ms. Ghanea what steps can be taken under her mandate to address the Islamophobia affecting Muslims globally.
The representative of India, noting that his country represents a sixth of humanity and is a multireligious, multiethnic State, said that freedom of religion or belief is safeguarded by its independent judiciary. He rejected allegations in the report against India, stressing its inclusive nature, and called for impartial and objective reporting, based on credible sources.
The representative of China pointed to rampant anti‑Muslim legislation in the United States, which is spreading Islamic threat theories across the world, including through the media. Noting that the war on terrorism has caused civilian casualties and deaths, she rejected allegations against her country regarding Xinjiang and Tibet as lies and double standards.
The representative of Canada, noting that her country fully respects the rights to freedom of religion and belief, acknowledged that it has historically denied these rights. Pointing to Canada’s collaboration with indigenous peoples to promote their rights, she expressed concern over the global rise in religious hatred. Sharing the United States’ comments on China and Iran, she asked Ms. Ghanea how to better promote the values of inclusion to create an atmosphere of respect for religious beliefs.
The representative of Iran expressed concern over the systematic discrimination against indigenous peoples in Canada as well as racism in law enforcement and the judiciary in the United States. Noting that the exercise of the freedom of expression carries special duties and responsibilities, she said that peaceful assembly can turn to violence in some cases and may be subject to restrictions if national security, public order or health are threatened. She invited Ms. Ghanea to continue following the situation of indigenous peoples in Canada and the United States.
Ms. GHANEA, responding, said that freedom of religion and belief is only one violation Indigenous Peoples face, stressing that the report is rooted on the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of indigenous peoples and other bodies, spotlighting such abuses and concerns. Stressing the role of consultative groups, she said that free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples must not be forgotten. Recognizing the role of multilateral institutions and other Special Rapporteurs, including those focusing on land, sacred sites and other human rights concerns, Ms. Ghanea said she is reaching out to these bodies. She urged States to respect a variety of religions and beliefs, including atheists or those who reject religion. Stressing that hate speech is a scourge in many societies, she said it will continue to be a matter of concern for her mandate. Noting the intersective nature of the right to freedom of religion or belief, she highlighted impacts of its violation on economic, social, cultural and political rights. “People are being prohibited from birth to death from being registered to being buried and everything in between in administrative processes, in daily life”, she said. She stressed the role non‑State actors, civil society and faith‑based organizations play in pushing Governments to address these issues. Adding that the mandate can support States to address their domestic challenges, including by carrying out country visits, she appealed to States to respond to her mandate’s communications, which will remain “violations‑centered” and emphasize communication.
Also speaking in the dialogue were the representatives of the Netherlands, Cuba, Austria, Norway, Poland, Greece, Morocco and Hungary.
MORRIS TIDBALL-BINZ, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, presenting his second report (document A/77/270) said his mandate resulted primarily from the clamour of victims, including mothers and families of victims of executions. Over the past year, he met with many representatives of States in Geneva and with academic and professional organizations, as well as non‑governmental organizations and families of victims to develop standards and good and best forensic practices. He issued a total of 194 State communications. The tragic reality of such executions, which are seen around the world, include atrocities and impunity, which affront human consciousness, he said, demanding investigations of all cases. States should ensure implementation of recommendations and standards developed by the mandate on avoiding the excessive use of force which could, in certain situations, lead to death. The report presented today includes a discussion on the death penalty as well as other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment, he said. The mandate has clearly contributed to strengthening the protection of the right to life during the 40 years of its existence. The report confirms the irreplaceable contribution and need for the mandate, which identifies and alerts States to a gap which needs to be filled to ensure the effective implementation of norms and standards developed. The death penalty is a grave violation of the right to life, he said, adding that its imposition involves suffering equivalent to torture. It also tragically impacts the family and loved ones of the person sentenced.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, the representative of Mexico opposed application of the death penalty for all crimes. Stressing the need to enhance the work of independent investigations through the adoption of appropriate legal regimes, he asked the Special Rapporteur about good practices for extraditions in cases when the crime for which extradition is requested is punishable by death. On extraditions from an abolition State to a State with the death penalty, he asked about protection granted to the extradited person.
The representative of the United States, raising concern over killings perpetrated by the Taliban against civil society and women rights activities since its takeover last year, asked about ways to prevent arbitrary and extrajudicial killings perpetrated by State actors.
Echoing his concerns, the representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, highlighted the growing need for forensic capacity building globally. She asked the Special Rapporteur what States should do to ensure professionalism in investigations of any potentially unlawful deaths.
The representative of Pakistan emphasized that States are responsible for preventing extrajudicial killings in all circumstances and protecting the right to life. However, this right has been flagrantly violated in conflict, especially in situations of foreign occupation, she cautioned, pointing to illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir. New Delhi’s occupation forces are engaged in a campaign of killing Kashmiri youth as a political instrument to silence the demand for freedom. Such extrajudicial killings include organized massacres, targeted killings, custodial deaths and enforced disappearances, she said, noting that since 1989, more than 100,000 civilians have been killed extrajudicially. Yet, not a single Indian soldier has been punished for such extrajudicial killings, she asserted.
In response, the representative of India, noting that the death penalty in his country is only used in rare cases, condemned yet another attempt by Pakistan to abuse the United Nations platform and spread its malicious propaganda against his country. Pakistan has been engaged in systematic persecutions, targeted killings, and discrimination against its ethnic and religious minorities, he stressed.
The representative of Armenia drew attention to the evidence of summary executions of a group of his country’s servicemen who were captive and unarmed at the time of their execution. Stressing the importance of reliable investigative mechanisms to help ensure the investigation and prevention of unlawful killings, he asked the Special Rapporteur about ways to ensure that perpetrators of such heinous crimes are brought to justice.
The representative of Myanmar condemned the summary and arbitrary executions perpetrated by the illegal military, voicing concern over the total lack of trial standards and due process, arbitrary killings, and torture of detainees.
Responding to questions and comments, Mr. TIDBALL-BINZ called for coordinated efforts of States, non‑governmental organisations, academics and regional human rights organizations as well as the United Nations. To this end, he drew attention to the United Nations Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra‑Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, known as the Minnesota Protocol, and stressed the importance of its implementation. He recommended that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) create a focal point within the Office for forensic capability, following the example of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Such capacity within the institution can play an important role in supporting the special procedure and other human rights mechanisms. During his mandate, he has provided training to medical and forensic specialists and judges on the use of tools such as the Minnesota Protocol, he stressed. The most frequent form of torture is the threat of death against the victim and their family. “What is the death penalty if not that?” he asked, calling for abolition of this barbaric practice.
Also speaking were representatives of Côte d’Ivoire, United Kingdom, Sweden, China, Iran and Egypt.
FIONNUALA NÍ AOLÁIN, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, presented her report on the relationship of peace work to promoting rights‑based societies. She recalled that United Nations’ peace work must hold the people themselves as the primary beneficiaries and not only Member States. She expressed concern that States increasingly engage in these processes through a terroristic, rather than a peace lens, which displaces international legal frameworks and undermines grassroots and civil society participation that is necessary for mediation and peace processes.
She detailed her activities over the past year, highlighting visits to the Maldives, Uzbekistan and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) as well engagement with issues such as repatriation of third‑party nationals in northeast Syria and citizenship stripping. She noted positive repatriation practices in various countries, including Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, the Russian Federation, France and the United States, encouraging others to follow their examples.
As conflicts become more complex, counter‑terrorism and peacebuilding require compromise, sometimes working with actors who have formerly engaged in violence, and support for legal frameworks to regulate armed conflict, she said. Underscoring the need for financial investment for appropriate United Nations entities, she stressed that twenty years of investment in counter‑terrorism, especially human rights light and civil society absent counter‑terrorism, which lack independent oversight, and sustained monitoring and evaluation, has simply not delivered for States. She called on States to consider whether budget proposals in the Fifth Committee are delivering on the ground.
She said her report highlights the misuse of the language of extremism language and terrorism by States that undermines trust and may harm human rights defenders. It also addresses proscription, she said, adding that “when we place people in situations where we cannot speak to them we cannot do our work”. Further, she urged all Member States to implement the Fourth Geneva Convention to ensure that demonization through the misuse of counter‑terrorism law occurring in complex occupation situations does not thwart efforts to end them.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, the representative of Mexico expressed concern that the human rights pillar of the United Nations only receives 3 per cent of the total annual budget.
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as an observer, asked Ms. Ní Aoláin to cite civil society initiatives with a positive impact on counter‑terrorism practices.
The representative of Cuba asked what could be done by the international community to bring the United States to justice for its so‑called War on Terror, which resulted in extrajudicial killings, torture and Guantanamo Bay prison, where 39 people are still arbitrarily detained.
The representative of China echoed Cuba’s statement, adding that the United States and its allies have committed war crimes in and around the Middle East, threatening the right to religion and dignity, and calling on the Special Rapporteur to prevent recurrence.
The representative of Costa Rica stressed that the root causes of terrorism include poverty, hate speech, and foreign occupation, and called on Member States to respect international law.
The representative of Pakistan said that an unclear definition of terrorism itself in counter‑terrorism regimes has failed to distinguish between terrorism and self-determination, freedom of assembly and minority rights. She expressed concern that, since the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, terrorism is unjustly associated with Islam.
The representative of the United States said that the Government is in the process of making a transparent effort to transfer prisoners and close the Guantanamo Bay prison.
The representative of Côte d’Ivoire said that disinformation gains ground in a context prone to terrorism, calling for vigilance with information and communications technology. Detailing laws and campaigns put in place to educate its population, he asked the Special Rapporteur how an international convention might address this situation.
Responding to delegates, she said that civil society is indeed under attack through the misuse of counter‑terrorism law, stressing the importance of her work in documenting these instances. Further, the misuse of legislation is directly related to the lack of a set definition of terrorism, she said, adding that until precise definitions linked to acts of terrorism are adopted, misuse will continue. Affirming that the United Nations has many due‑diligence practices throughout its bodies, it is specifically lacking in counter‑terrorism operations and the cost is paid on the ground. Also, existing legislative frameworks fail to respond to right wing extremism, the greatest current threat, according to the Global Terrorism Index. Terrorism can only be addressed through a “whole‑of‑society” approach, she stressed. Underscoring that if counter‑terrorism does not apply human rights, international humanitarian, and refugee law, it may undermine the United Nations Charter itself.
Also speaking were representatives of Switzerland, the Russian Federation, Qatar, the United Kingdom, Morocco, Ireland and India. An observer of the Sovereign Order of Malta also spoke.
LIVINGSTONE SEWANYANA, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, presented his report on the main challenges to the maintenance of international peace and security at the global level. He described the current tragic events in Ukraine and beyond as a powerful reminder that international peace and security cannot be secured without achieving nuclear disarmament and reducing military expenditure in favour of sustainable development. Nuclear weapons are the most inhumane weapons ever designed, he said, noting that their presence in the military arsenal of some States is typically justified by the policy of so‑called nuclear deterrence to keep peace. However, due to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that possibly entail, they fundamentally constitute an inherent threat to the very existence of humanity, he cautioned.
Addressing challenges to international peace and security, he stressed the importance of long‑overdue reform of some key United Nations bodies. Firstly, the Security Council should become more representative and transparent, as its current composition fails to represent today’s geopolitical realities. Secondly, permanent Members of the Security Council should refrain from using their veto power to block the functioning of this body. In fact, the use of this key prerogative should always be in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations. Thirdly, formal consultations with external stakeholders, in particular civil society organizations, should be put in place. Similarly, the General Assembly should exercise a greater role in decision‑making, he underscored.
The representative of Azerbaijan rejected attempts to break down constitutional and democratic orders legitimately established by the people. She stressed the inalienable right of all peoples, particularly non‑self‑governing territories, as well as those under foreign occupation and colonial or alien domination to self‑determination. The exercise of this right remains valid and essential to ensure universal respect for human rights, she said, adding that the observance of international law and the fulfillment in good faith of States’ obligations is key for international peace and security.
The representative of Venezuela denounced the increased use of unilateral measures to undermine the international order and multilateralism, imposing a system based on economic power. Stressing that such measures affect political dialogue and international cooperation, as well as economic growth and sustainable development, he underscored the impact they have on affected populations, including in accessing essential goods. Emphasizing the need to consolidate a proposal that addresses today’s challenges, he pointed to proposals made in the Third Committee, such as declarations on the right to development, international solidarity and responses to pandemics, stressing the need for an official systematization of unilateral coercive measures. He asked Mr. Sewanyana’s view on such proposals and how his mandate can contribute to making progress.
The representative of Cuba, underscoring the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on economies, said that a new order can never arise if unilateral coercive measures are still in place violating human rights. Stressing that such practices are contrary to the United Nations Charter and international law, as they hamper development, he noted that they increased during the pandemic. He called on Mr. Sewanyana to continue to study the impact of these measures on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order.
The representative of Algeria said his country advocates for justice and cooperation in international relations as well as a new economic order that will enable all countries to leave no one behind. On the need to reform the Security Council and revitalize the General Assembly, he asked Mr. Sewanyana to share his thoughts and indicate what further actions the United Nations can take to promote a democratic and equitable international order.
The representative of China said that, for political purposes, the United States and other countries have issued false information about other States, interfered in their affairs using human rights as a leverage, and advanced unilateral coercive measures. She called on the international community to reject hegemony, block politicization, and resist such measures.
Responding, Mr. SEWANYANA stressed the role of multilateralism in overcoming global challenges, pointing to the 2024 Summit of the Future as an opportunity for the international community to address issues like the right to self‑determination and the necessity for all to ban the use of nuclear weapons. Inviting the United Nations General Assembly to reassert its role, he said that no single State, no matter how powerful, should override the decision of such a body. He invited the General Assembly to discuss the veto power in the Security Council as well as reform of the Council to make it more democratic, representative and responsive to the needs and aspirations of all.
ATTIYA WARIS, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, said that countries lose an estimated $483 billion in revenues per year, due to cross‑border corporate and offshore tax abuse by wealthy individuals. Such actions reduce the available pool of resources essential for investing in social policies and public services and realizing human rights. This is particularly concerning in a context where States face the economic and social impacts of multiple crises, which add pressure on nations, as it deprives them of significant resources to address the situation. It is also indicative of fundamental deficiencies at the international, regional and national tax governance architecture. States should promote a human rights‑based economy, one that enhances the well‑being and dignity of people, particularly those most marginalised, and that ensures human rights obligations are at the centre of financial and fiscal decision making. Critical principles of transparency, accountability, participation, social justice and fairness and justice should guide the development of such a system.
States should align their fiscal policies and fulfil their financial obligations in line with human rights principles, she said. Tackling illicit financial flows has also been incorporated into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including by reducing illicit financial flows and strengthening the recovery and return of stolen assets. The creation of a multilateral, inclusive and democratic fiscal architecture is crucial for States to fight the challenges of global tax avoidance and evasion. It is also necessary that States engage in international cooperation and assistance in the development and enforcement of fiscal law and policy, using democratic systems. In her report, Ms. Warie said, she has called States to take a range of measures, including: reform of the global taxation system in order to combat illicit financial flows, including extraterritorial obligations; a fourth International Conference on Financing for Development, that could discuss a United Nations tax convention and global tax body as well as current issues such as the benefits of a global asset registry; ensure that the promotion and realization of human rights is at the core of this reform; combat illicit financial flows, while strengthening international cooperation and assistance; and to launch negotiations of a United Nations led global tax convention.
In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of Cuba said the impact of external debt on human rights, particularly social and cultural rights and the right to development, are undeniable, adding that Covid‑19 has shown the challenges facing developing countries in achieving these goals. Some countries chose to impose coercive unilateral measures, which have negative effects on the enjoyment of human rights, she said, stressing that the Independent Expert should investigate this further.
The representative of the Russian Federation called on the Independent Expert to investigate Western countries that force other States to declare technical default due to their inability to service foreign debt, as such nations freeze their gold and other reserves.
The representative of China said developed countries and multilateral institutions should do more to ensure debt relief for developing countries and expedite the return of illicit funds to countries of origin.
The representative of Cameroon asked what impact a convention negotiated under United Nations auspices would have on the international financial architecture and financing for development as a whole.
The representative of Algeria said it is time to review the international debt system, pointing out that countries are struggling to recover stolen assets. He asked how the inception of such bodies as mentioned by the Independent Expert could help.
Responding, Ms. WARIS, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, noted that earlier this year many Special Rapporteurs and Experts wrote a letter to the United States on the freezing of bank reserves, in the context of Afghanistan. Many developing countries do not have enough reserves, which impedes them from participating in regional membership groups, as they do not have the funds. There was a small gain post‑Covid‑19, but some countries are still going through the crisis, and thus the trade offs on how to spend money are resulting in a decision‑making quandary for many countries. There are private entities and corporations that control how financial information is shared, which layers the debt crisis over all others, she said. There are many issues concerning the division of private and public finance, she said, adding that more needs to be moved to public spaces, where they can be debated in a more transparent manner. The creation of a body where these discussions can take place will improve democracy in the world. There is currently a United Nations Committee on Tax Cooperation, she noted, but it needs to have value added to it, or be replaced by a larger entity where tax discussions can take place.
The rescheduling of debt is not a solution, Ms. Waris said, as it multiplies the amount of debt incredibly. The vulnerability and shocks to the economy that developing countries are suffering is going to be a problem if the international community does not get a handle on interest rates. The biggest challenge facing the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals is the lack of accessible financial resources to achieve human rights. The international community needs to come together and unlock resources that exist, making them available to the most vulnerable.
Also speaking in the dialogue was the representative of Mali.
Transnational Corporations and Other Businesses
The Chair of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, Fernanda Hopenhaym, presented the report (A/77/201) entitled “Corporate Influence in the Political and Regulatory Sphere: Ensuring Business Practice in line with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights”. She said it aims to distinguish between modes of corporate engagement that are rights‑respecting and those that may lead to human‑rights abuses. Private sector participation in policymaking must be conducted transparently and responsibly in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles, she said.
Stressing that the Principles call on businesses to identify negative impacts and mitigate risks, she said that States and multilateral institutions have not done enough to require businesses to align their political engagement with human rights. Specifically, corporate influence in the political and regulatory spheres have produced negative impacts in contexts of climate, food, water and housing crises. The report states that corporate political engagement includes several categories of activities undertaken by businesses to influence political processes, such as influencing policymakers, academia, public narratives around political issues and the judiciary, she said. While all these activities may have legitimate applications, they can also lead to business‑related human rights abuses when carried out irresponsibly. They occur when businesses ignore human rights risks associated with political engagement and practice with weak oversight or a lack of transparency and due diligence.
She offered recommendations to States to ensure coherence between businesses’ political activities and their respective human rights duties, including mandatory human rights due diligence legislation applying to businesses, mandatory lobbying registers and disclosure as well as conflict of interest laws and other asset disclosure systems for government officials and regulators.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, the representative of Morocco said that businesses are important stakeholders and therefore their engagement is useful. She asked what best practices are in training business actors who are not skilled in politics or law.
The representative of Luxembourg detailed the country’s Registry of Transparency, which requires parliamentary members to register contacts with all non‑legislative actors.
The representative of Malaysia, noting that the report mentions that his country is misleading the public on palm oil, said that the industry employs more than three million Malaysians, and the Government implemented a sustainable palm oil scheme in 2015. Further, the State has demanded that labour laws be respected and established an online platform for workers to lodge complaints. Despite this work, the industry, the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and workers are suffering, he said, calling for public education about positive steps for change that the Government has implemented.
The representative of Portugal said that negotiation is currently underway in Geneva on a business and human rights instrument, adding that global conflict has increased opportunities for businesses to commit human rights violations. Detailing the country’s steps to create its own regulatory framework, he asked the Special Rapporteur what advice she would give to countries that are planning to draw up similar legislation for the first time.
The representative of the United States expressed concern about the ways that corporate influence can put human rights defenders at risk, particularly through lawsuits.
The representative of China expressed concern about references in the report to the United States’ trade and human rights abuses through lobbying. Highlighting massive layoffs in the country that affected minorities disproportionately, she also decried forced labour and trafficking in the agriculture sector. She added that if the United States truly cared about human rights, it would act on its own violations instead of causing unemployment in Xinjiang.
The representative of Syria said that he felt unattached to the subject as economic blockades prevent businesses or multinationals from operating in his country.
In her response, Ms. HOPENHAYM advocated a smart mix of measures tailored to States’ needs to protect human rights in a business context, including national action plans and regulatory public policies. Voicing support for the discussions and ensuing legal instrument, she said that an independent expert is also contributing to discussions there. She encouraged States to have their own discussions internally on how to regulate businesses and lobbies with multiple stakeholders including businesses and civil society actors to acknowledge power imbalances. The discussions themselves must be regulated, she said, or undue influence may only increase human rights violations. Adding that human rights defenders must also be protected, she recalled the Guideline her Group published in 2021 as well as a report on corruption. She highlighted future visits to Luxembourg, Liberia, and Argentina, as well as this year’s Forum on Business and Human rights entitled “Rightsholders at the Center”.
Also speaking were representatives of Switzerland, France, Ireland, and Russian Federation, the representative of the European Union spoke in its capacity as an observer.
Special Envoy on Myanmar
NOELEEN HEYZER, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General on Myanmar, warned that the political, human rights and humanitarian crisis in Myanmar continues to take a catastrophic toll on the people, with 13.2 million facing food insecurity, 1.3 million internally displaced, and 40 per cent of the population living below the poverty line. Military operations continue using a disproportionate use of force, including aerial bombings, burning of civilian structures, and the killing of civilians, including children. In this context, she condemned the recent indiscriminate air strikes in Kachin State that killed many civilians. The plight of the Rohingya people, along with other forcibly displaced communities, remains desperate, with many seeking refuge through dangerous land and sea journeys. The violence between the Arakan Army and the military in Rakhine has escalated to levels not seen since late 2020, with significant cross‑border incursions, harming conditions for durable return, and prolonging the burden on Bangladesh as a host country of about 1 million Rohingya refugees.
Calling for an inclusive Myanmar‑led process to the democratic transition, she urged the military to end aerial bombing and burning of civilian infrastructure; ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance without discrimination; release all children and political prisoners; put in place a moratorium on executions; and ensure well‑being of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. She also highlighted Myanmar’s responsibility to create conditions for the voluntary and safe return of Rohingya refugees. The recent forced return of Myanmar nationals underlines the urgency of a coordinated Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN) response to address shared regional challenges caused by the conflict, she underscored, describing education as a powerful tool to prepare Rohingya refugees for their return to Myanmar. “There is a new political reality in Myanmar: people demanding change, no longer willing to accept military rule,” she asserted.
The representative of Myanmar said the air strike carried out by the military on 23 October in Hpakant, Kachin State, resulted in the death of 100 people, including women and children. He stressed that the military junta is attempting to gain legitimacy through their sham 2023 election, while holding elected political leaders as hostages and crushing any civic space, including independent media and civil society. Such elections would never lead to a democratic transition, only instability and permanent military control empowered by total impunity, he added. Warning against the vicious cycle of atrocities committed by the military, he said the military offers no guarantee for the safe and dignified return of the Rohingya refugees. The sustainable solution to the situation in Myanmar is a transformative change towards a democratic future, he noted, emphasizing that people in Myanmar need protection from further military atrocities as well as humanitarian assistance. To end military impunity, the Security Council must use admissible evidence to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court, he asserted, calling also for a broader mandate for the Special Envoy on Myanmar.
The representative of Bangladesh, a country directly affected by the crisis in Myanmar, called for a lasting solution to the crisis. He voiced regret that the Special Envoy was unable to visit Rakhine State, the home of the displaced Rohingya refugees. Stressing the importance of accountability, he called on Member States to cooperate with the accountability mechanisms, including the International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court.
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, decried the death sentences carried out by the military junta in July 2022 against four civil society activists, after decades with no recorded executions in Myanmar. Recent executions negate all prospects for the return of the country to a democratic path, she cautioned.
Echoing her concerns, the representative of Thailand called for meaningful steps towards de‑escalation of violence and the finding of peaceful political solutions that would benefit Myanmar and its people. The international community should support the role of ASEAN and prevent escalation of hostilities, he underlined.
The representative of Mexico voiced concern over violations of human rights perpetrated by the Myanmar military, including its use of the death penalty, violence against women and girls, and escalation of tensions in the Rakhine State. Calling for the safe and dignified return of Rohingya refugees, he asked the Special Envoy how States can support her mandate through the work of the Third Committee.
Meanwhile, the representative of the Russian Federation, supporting the efforts of ASEAN to resolve the situation within and outside Myanmar, opposed threats and sanctions imposed on Myanmar, as they push extremist forces to continuing military activities, the victims of which are civilians.
Responding to questions and comments, Ms. Noeleen Heyzer said it is not sustainable for Bangladesh to host such large numbers of refugees and called for conducive conditions for the voluntary return of the Rohingya refugees to their places of origin. To this end, she underscored the importance of protection and security guarantees. Turning to the multidimensional crisis that occurred after the coup, she drew attention to root causes of displacement that have affected the Rohingya and many other communities, especially in active conflict. Reiterating her commitment to engaging with all stakeholders, including the ASEAN Envoy, she called for a Myanmar-led solution built on the will of its people and supported by regional unity. In this context, she underscored the key role of ASEAN as well as neighbouring countries that share a border with Myanmar. Urging for strengthened dialogue and mediation efforts to reduce the level of violence, which is the cause of the humanitarian crisis, she warned that humanitarian assistance does not reach the people who are most in need.
Also speaking were representatives of Lichtenstein, France, Türkiye, Germany, Norway, Japan and China.