Statement 106 Views

Joint civil society statement on outcomes of the UNGA 78 Third Committee

November 20th, 2023  •  Author:   14 International Non-Governmental Organizations  •  15 minute read
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The undersigned civil society organisations mark the conclusion of the UN General Assembly’s (GA) 78th Third Committee session with the following observations on both thematic and country-specific outcomes. We urge all States to implement the commitments they have made during this session to their full extent.

THEMATIC OUTCOMES

Statements

We welcome the joint statement on reprisals, led by Ireland and Uruguay and joined by a cross-regional group of countries. The statement called on all States and the UN to prevent, respond to, and ensure accountability for cases of intimidation and reprisals against those who engage or seek to engage with the UN. Once again, 80 States signed on to the statement, and affirmed their commitment to freedom of expression and association; solidarity with defenders, civil society and victims of violations; and contributed to ensuring that UN bodies and processes are informed by, and respond effectively to, the needs of communities on the ground. We urge more States to sign on to future such statements.

Resolutions 

We welcome the adoption of the biennial resolution on human rights defenders focusing on the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. The resolution included strengthened language on women human rights defenders, defenders in conflict and post conflict situations and children defending human rights; as well as multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and defenders’ work to develop new human rights ideas. We welcome calls on States to refrain from internet shutdowns and restrictions including digital technologies, as well as on OHCHR to collect information on threats, attacks and cases of arbitrary detention. We now look to all States to implement these commitments and meaningfully progress the protection of human rights defenders.

We welcome the adoption of a strong resolution on the safety of journalists. This resolution adds new commitments for States on a wide range of issues, including on strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), journalists covering protests, and gender-based harassment and abuse. The resolution also recognised the growing threat of generative artificial intelligence to the safety of journalists. We urge all States to translate these renewed international commitments into allocation of resources and political will at the national level to prevent, protect and remedy all human rights violations against journalists.

A new resolution on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of digital technologies was adopted, advancing discussion on artificial intelligence at a critical time as the Global Digital Compact attempts a similarly comprehensive exercise. The text brings the omnibus coverage of the various Human Rights Council resolutions to the Third Committee, highlighting intersections of digital technologies, human rights, security and sustainable development, and crucially recognising that certain applications of digital technologies are incompatible with international human rights law. The text included language on racial and gender-based discrimination, business and human rights, privacy, targeted surveillance, data protection, freedom of expression, censorship and internet shutdowns. We hope to build on this broad foundation and strengthen elements on targeted surveillance, commercial spyware, biometric data in digital public infrastructure, and applications of artificial intelligence in future resolutions.

The resolution on terrorism and human rights adopted by consensus underscores the importance of the promotion of human rights and meaningful participation of all of society in counter-terrorism efforts nationally and globally. This resolution offered an opportunity to reflect on changes in State violations in the name of counter-terrorism or national security, and to build on language on gender inclusivity, civil society engagement and the importance of international humanitarian law and humanitarian access included in the recent UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and report by the Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter terrorism. However, as the resolution was a technical rollover from GA76, we regret that this opportunity was not seized this session and hope that future resolutions will build upon these advancements.

We welcome the adoption of the resolution on strengthening the role of the UN in the promotion of democratization and enhancing periodic and genuine elections, focusing on media freedom and freedom of expression, presented by the US. The role of human rights defenders, as well as States’ obligation to ensure the right of all to participate in elections and to take steps to eliminate policies and practices discriminating on various grounds was maintained in the text. Critically, for the second time, the text recognised women and girls in all their diversity, and listed sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited grounds of discrimination; despite votes being called to amend those references. Consensus was broken on the resolution for the first time, but was ultimately adopted by an overwhelming majority.

We welcome the adoption by consensus of the resolution on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. We specifically welcome calls on States to ensure the protection and safety of indigenous human rights defenders, and to prevent and investigate human rights violations, killings, reprisals and abuses against them.

The rights of the Child resolution, focusing on the digital environment, was adopted by consensus. Despite the timeline precluding a full consideration of the lengthy text and risking an imbalanced update, we welcome the co-facilitators’ decision to open the full text for negotiation, to include updates related to the theme and references to General Comments 25 and 26 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. We welcome retention of agreed language, and updates, including: bridging digital divides; protection from violence, harassment and abuse in the digital environment; access to information and impacts of digital acceleration on education access; sexual and reproductive health; multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination; and private sector responsibilities. We are disappointed however by decisions to delete agreed language on the full, equal and meaningful participation of girls, delete paragraphs on COVID-19 that resulted in lost language on children’s rights, to remove language on specific challenges facing girls, and to include new non-agreed language on the common responsibilities of parents.

Gender related resolutions

The resolution on policies and Programmes Involving Youth presented by Cabo Verde, Kazakhstan and Portugal, was adopted by consensus. The zero-draft was slimmed down in a streamlining exercise, leading to the exclusion of human rights frameworks and a focus on reinserting previously agreed language. We are pleased that references to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, sexual and gender based violence, sexual and reproductive health services, menstrual health, comprehensive education and human rights frameworks were retained.  However we regret that despite significant support from Member States, agreed language from the previous resolution on sexual and reproductive health and rights, menstrual hygiene management, marginalised persons and situations, comprehensive sexuality education, as well as references to adolescents were not included in the final text.

We welcome the adoption by consensus of the resolution on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation (WASH), presented by Germany and Spain, that included new references to menstrual health and hygiene management, sexual and reproductive health-care services, and sexual and gender-based violence. Language was maintained on the stigmatising effect of lack of menstrual health and hygiene management on young women and girls; as well as inequalities caused by COVID-19 in accessing adequate WASH services especially for women, girls and persons in vulnerable situations, adversely impacting gender equality and women’s empowerment. We regret that, despite significant support, references to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and sexual and gender-based violence were either omitted or diluted in the final text, neglecting the need to comprehensively address various forms of violence and discrimination women and girls face when accessing water and sanitation.

We welcome the adoption by consensus of the violence against women migrant workers resolution presented by Indonesia and the Philippines. The resolution includes new references to gender-based violence through digital technologies, particularly impacting women migrant workers in transit and in destination countries; as well as root causes of migration, including climate change, the availability of equitable work and inequitable ownership of local resources, which undermine women’s empowerment. Strengthened recognition of domestic and care migrant workers as a particularly vulnerable group who can face exploitation, violence, and abuse due to the informal nature of their employment was included. We regret that despite significant support, additional references to sexual and reproductive health, intimate partner violence, and multiple and intersection forms of discrimination were omitted in the final text. We echo the resolution’s call to all Member States to protect all migrant women from harassment and violence, regardless of migration status.

The resolution on the Girl Child, presented by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), was adopted by consensus. We welcome the retention of agreed language, as well as the theme proposed for the Secretary General’s Report to the eightieth GA session on the impact of digital technologies on girls, and related language updates. However, we deeply regret   that the circulation of the text did not allow sufficient time for a comprehensive and substantive update. We are disappointed that the only other update to the text was the unprecedented inclusion of language on family-oriented and family-policies. In the absence of references to other policies that aim to realise the rights of girls in all their diversity, this new inclusion results in an imbalanced text that fails to fully recognize and address the challenges they face. Given the rapidly changing global landscape for girls and that last substantive revision of this text was in 2017, a comprehensive update to this resolution remains crucial.

The resolution on rural women was adopted by consensus and co-sponsored by more than 60 Member States. We welcome the retention of agreed language that recognizes the impact of historical and structural power relations, gender stereotypes and negative social norms on the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, particularly those living in rural areas. We also welcome that the resolution urges Member States to implement policies and programs that promote and protect the human rights of women and girls, address sexual and gender-based violence and multiple intersecting forms of discrimination, and strengthen measures to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. We, however, deeply regret that several proposals to further strengthen the resolution that were supported by many Member States were not retained in the final draft including on the particular challenges women and girls living in rural areas face in accessing sexual and reproductive health services, and references to women and girls in all their diversity.

The resolution on follow up to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action presented by Bangladesh was adopted by consensus. We welcome the text, which includes new references to the high-level meeting on universal health coverage, the universality of the 2030 agenda and their role in achieving gender equality, and to the UN system-wide Knowledge Hub on addressing sexual harassment. It also calls for a high-level meeting at the 80th General Assembly to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, and to accelerate the realisation of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. We regret that proposed text on multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and on the importance of the realisation of sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights was not included in the final document.

OUTCOMES ON COUNTRY SITUATIONS

Statements

The joint statement on the human rights situation in Xinjiang, China delivered by the UK on behalf of a cross-regional group of 51 countries is a strong message to Chinese authorities regarding growing concerns about abuses against Turkic Muslim communities. This year, there are new signatories from several regional groups. The statement emphasises the serious human rights violations Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim communities continue to suffer in Xinjiang, and echoes the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ August 2022 report, which concluded that the abuses ‘may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.’ The statement notes that a year has passed since the release of the OHCHR report, and China has yet to engage constructively with its findings. It urges China to end its human rights violations, engage constructively with the OHCHR, and fully implement the reports’ recommendations. With only one more State signature than the 2022 joint statement, work remains to be done to ensure broader support from Member States to hold China accountable for its human rights violations including from Muslim-majority countries.

Resolutions

While we support the below resolutions that highlight violations of human rights in specific countries, we acknowledge the existence of human rights violations in many other countries that also merit the attention of the UN General Assembly and look forward to a time when they are also considered in the Third Committee.

The resolution on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran was adopted following a vote (80 in favour; 65 against; 29 abstentions). Initiated by Canada and a core group and cosponsored by 50 countries, this comprehensive resolution calls on Iran to uphold the rights of all citizens. It specifically calls on Iran to prohibit child, early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation, children being subject to the death penalty, torture and other inhuman treatment. It condemns fundamental rights violations, the frequent imposition of the death penalty, intensified and targeted repression of women and girls, the use of surveillance and force against non violent protesters, and poor prison conditions. It also calls for an end to all discrimination and violations against ethnic, linguistic and other minorities as well as recognized and unrecognised religious minorities, including Baha’is who continue to suffer various violations including persecution, mass arrests, lengthy prison sentences.

We welcome the adoption of the resolution on the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic. We particularly welcome new references to the victim- and survivor-centric Independent Institution on Missing Persons, a mechanism established by the UN General Assembly this June, to help clarify the fate and whereabouts of all missing persons in Syria. However, we are disappointed that the resolutions’ co-sponsors orally amended the text to remove a critical paragraph that would have mandated a regular report on humanitarian access in the country. Not only would this report have specifically highlighted instances where humanitarian access was not full, timely, unrestricted or sustained; it would have filled a gap left by the failure to renew the Security Council-mandated cross-border humanitarian mechanism earlier this year.

The consensus adoption of the resolution on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) demonstrates that Member States remain deeply concerned about the appalling abuses committed by the DPRK authorities. We welcome in particular the inclusion of language on accountability. We also welcome language stressing the linkages between the human rights situation in the country, including with respect to the rights of women and girls, and the continuing diversion of DPRK’s resources to pursuing nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes over the welfare of its people.

The resolution on the situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar, which was adopted by consensus, once again does not reiterate key elements of the 2021 UNGA resolution which followed the military coup in February 2021. The resolution fails to comprehensively address ongoing and escalating human rights violations by the military, despite the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar’s warning that a ‘raging fire of brutality’ is engulfing the country. The resolution however recognizes the impacts of militarization aggravated by the continued access to arms from abroad, reiterates protection needs of the Rohingya and calls for all necessary measures to be taken to provide justice to victims and ensure accountability.

The resolution on the situation of human rights in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, including the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol was adopted by vote. The resolution strongly condemns intensifying crackdowns against journalists and other media workers, human rights defenders and civil rights activists, as well as forcible transfers of Ukrainian children and other civilians to the temporarily controlled or occupied territories of Ukraine and their deportation to the Russian Federation. The resolution further calls on Russia to cease all violations and abuses, including discriminatory measures and practices, arbitrary detentions and arrests within the framework of the so-called filtration procedures, enforced disappearances, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, including compeling apprehended persons to self-incriminate or ‘cooperate” with law enforcement, ensure fair trial, and revoke all discriminatory legislation.

CIVIL SOCIETY ACCESS
While we welcome the action by some States to invite civil society organisations to join informals as observers this session, it was disappointing that only a few States extended this invitation. This year, once again, civil society encountered challenges in staying informed about informal negotiations. The schedule of these informal sessions, previously available in the UN journal until 2019, was once again absent from the said journal. Instead, it was exclusively published on the e-deleGATE platform, to which civil society does not have access.These critical barriers to civil society access to Third Committee negotiations deprive the Committee of civil society’s technical expertise and mean that its outcomes fail to leverage the contributions of a crucial stakeholder in promoting the implementation of human rights.

SIGNATORIES

  • Access Now
  • Amnesty International
  • ARTICLE 19
  • Association for Progressive Communications – APC
  • Center for Reproductive Rights
  • CIVICUS
  • Fòs Feminista
  • Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  • Human Rights in China
  • Human Rights Watch
  • International Center for Not-for-Profit Law
  • International Service for Human Rights
  • Outright International
  • Women Deliver

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