Alert | UN General Assembly programme


The UN General Assembly's Third Committee meeting is currently underway and will run until late November. Here's our overview of what to expect.

Colombia as chair opened the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee meeting, which will run from 4 October to 22 November.  Thematic debates, consideration of reports, and negotiated resolutions will focus on a wide range of human rights matters including country situations, extrajudicial executions, protecting children from bullying, and the right to privacy in the digital age.  Interactive dialogues will be held with 55 special rapporteurs, independent experts, chairs of working groups and chairs of treaty bodies.   As in prior years – and controversially -  the annual report of the Human Rights Council is likely to be the focus of a resolution at the Third Committee.

With an eye on efficiency, the Committee is encouraged this year to produce fewer, snappier resolutions. Oral interventions by States during plenary sessions will now be subject to a timer, in a similar way to the Human Rights Council. During its last session, the Third Committee considered 61 resolutions.

ISHR will monitor and report on key developments at the Third Committee and General Assembly (GA) plenary through the session. Follow us at @ISHRglobal and at #UNGA71.

Reports and interactive dialogues

Human Rights Defenders

Several Special Procedures highlight intimidation and attacks against environmental and land defenders in their reports to the Third Committee.  ISHR calls on States to respond energetically and urgently to their recommendations to protect and empower these defenders in their work. 

The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders’ third report to the GA (A/71/281)  focuses on the ‘truly global crisis’ of killings of environmental human rights defenders, describing a context of violence and marginalisation in which these attacks take place. The Special Rapporteur provides a comprehensive set of recommendations including direct calls on businesses to fulfil ‘rigorous human rights due diligence and perform human rights impact assessments for every project’. The Special Rapporteur also highlights the need for trade agreements to address violations against defenders. He underlines the need for States to ‘immediately launch policies and mechanisms to empower and protect’ them.  The Special Rapporteur will present his report and hold an interactive dialogue with the Third Committee on 21 October 2016.

Report of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (A/71/291)                                                          

The report of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other enterprises focuses on the impact of agro-industrial operations on indigenous and local communities is the focus.  The Working Group notes that the criminalisation of communities and human rights defenders constitutes an obstacle to obtaining justice and calls on host States to protect land and environmental defenders and refrain from criminalising their legitimate activities.  It also encourages “agro-industrial companies to follow the lead of companies that have articulated a policy on human rights defenders.” The Working Group will present its report and hold an interactive dialogue with the Third Committee on 20 October 2016.

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples (A/71/229)  

In her report, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples provides an analysis of conservation measures and their impact on indigenous peoples. Such measures have often been taken without the recognition of collective rights to lands, territories and natural resources, resulting in their displacement and denial of self-governance. The Special Rapporteur notes the increasing threats from extractive industries and development projects to protected areas and the “escalating incidence of killings of indigenous environmentalists” and calls for increased collaboration between conservationists and indigenous peoples. The Special Rapporteur will present her report and hold an interactive dialogue with the Third Committee on 17 October 2016.

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation

On a similar note, the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation discusses development cooperation in the water and sanitation sector between States and multilateral agencies. The Report highlights that development cooperation can have a positive or negative impact on human rights. The Special Rapporteur considers that “there have been an unfortunate number of reports of the lives of civil society stakeholders being threatened when they voiced concerns for human rights in relation to multilateral development cooperation activities”. The Report reminds States that they “are required to create an enabling environment for active and informed participation and the protection of human rights defenders.”  The Special Rapporteur will present his report and hold an interactive dialogue with the Third Committee on 25 October 2016.

Country situations

The Third Committee will also engage in interactive dialogues with mandate-holders on various country situations, including on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (Special Rapporteur’s report to be issued; Secretary’s general report to be issued), Myanmar (Special Rapporteur’s report A/71/361; Secretary’s general Report A/71/308 ), Iran (Special Rapporteur’s report to be issued; Secretary’s General Report A/71/374), Belarus (Special Rapporteur’s report to be issued) and the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 (Special Rapporteur’s report to be issued).

It is unclear whether the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea will provide an oral update to the Third Committee.  This was requested of the Commission by the Human Rights Council in 2014, but it has not been included in the Third Committee draft agenda. The conclusion of the Commission of Inquiry’s work has put into question whether the oral update should still take place.  The Third Committee bureau will consult on the matter prior to a decision being made.

Other relevant reports
Report of the Secretary-General on the role of the Ombudsman, mediator and other national human rights institutions (A/71/273)

Once again, the Secretary General calls on States to set up national human rights institutions (NHRIs) fully compliant with the Paris Principles.  He highlights risks NHRI members can face, calling on States “to take measures to protect members and staff of national human rights institutions against threats and harassment”. The Secretary General also recognizes the NHRIs own protective role, encouraging them to develop protective measures and mechanisms for human rights defenders.  With an eye to the progress made on encouraging NHRI participation within the UN, the Secretary General invites NHRIs ‘to continue to advocate for their independent participation in relevant United Nations mechanisms and processes, including the 2030 Agenda’.

Report of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights (A/71/317)

In her first report to the GA, the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Ms Karima Bennoune, identifies those promoting access to cultural heritage and working to preserve and safeguard it as ‘cultural human rights defenders’ and thus ‘human rights defenders’.  She pays tribute to those defenders that have lost their lives defending cultural heritage.  She notes that contexts of conflict and political turmoil can lead to the displacement of defenders or restrictions on their freedom of movement.  The Special Rapporteur calls on States to respect the rights of cultural heritage defenders, address the risks they face and ensure their safety and security, and to “consider the creation of a mechanism for systematically collecting, analysing and distributing information on at-risk cultural heritage defenders around the world”.  The Special Rapporteur will present her report and hold an interactive dialogue with the Third Committee on 26 October 2016.

Interim report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief (A/71/269)

In his report, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief focuses on a range of violations on freedom of religion and their causes. Mr Bielefeldt echoes the views of the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights who emphasised that, in the context of preventing and countering violent extremism, human rights defenders and civil society need to be supported, including from reprisals for voicing the concerns of the most marginalized and targeted. The Special Rapporteur will present his report and hold an interactive dialogue with the Third Committee on 28 October 2016.

Human Rights Council Annual Report

The President of the Human Rights Council will present the Council’s annual report to the Third Committee on 4 November 2016. The Report contains the decision of the Council to appoint Vitit Muntarbhorn as the UN's first ever independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. ISHR has welcomed the appointment of the expert and encourages all States to cooperate and engage in an active dialogue with his mandate. Given the polarised discussions around the mandate, States and civil society organisations are mobilising in case an attempt is made to question the appointment when the Human Rights Council report is considered in New York. 

Key Resolutions

Country situations

Change is afoot with country-specific resolutions at the Third Committee this year.  Traditional resolutions on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (led by the EU), Iran (led by Canada) and Syria (led by Saudi Arabia) will be negotiated once again.  However, the EU-led resolution on Myanmar will be discontinued and a new resolution led by Ukraine on the situation of Crimea, is expected to be considered during the session.

All country resolutions are likely to be taken to a vote. The resolution on Crimea is likely to be highly contentious and face objections both in regard to content and on principle. Russia has reportedly already begun counter lobbying efforts to dissuade States from supporting the text.

The continuance of a resolution on Iran demonstrates that the human rights situation on the ground still requires close monitoring and that this is an issue separate from developments around the recent nuclear deal.  A more open negotiation process could contribute to strengthening, or at the very least maintaining, support for the text.  ISHR expects to see strong and consistent language on the need to end ‘the ongoing harassment, intimidation, arbitrary detention and prosecution’ of human rights defenders and to end reprisals against those cooperating with UN human rights mechanisms. 

The resolution on the situation of human rights in Myanmar led by the European Union will be discontinued. It is not clear whether an alternative text will be advanced. The fact that key benchmarks set forth in the resolution have not been met, such as the establishment of an OHCHR country office, raises concerns.  The discontinuance of the resolution foregoes the leverage it provided to push for reform in this respect, although the Human Rights Council resolution on Myanmar reminds the State of its commitment to opening the office.

In all country resolutions, ISHR urges the retention and strengthening of language on civil society organisations and human rights defenders, as well as language on the need to protect the right to freely access and communicate with international human rights mechanisms without being subject to intimidation and reprisals.

Thematic resolutions
Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

This session, the Third Committee will again consider its biennial resolution on extra-judicial killings which has the purpose “to ensure the effective protection of the right to life of all persons”.  For several years the resolution has referenced the killings of persons because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in the list of specific targeted groups.  ISHR hopes that no State will challenge the inclusion of this reference. There is clearly no justification for killing anyone extra-judicially.

Death Penalty

The report of the Secretary General on the 'Moratorium on the Death Penalty' focuses on the role of national human rights institutions in encouraging the abolition of the death penalty or the imposition of a moratorium pending abolition, and using the UPR to draw attention to issues related to the death penalty.  Given the efforts to enhance the participation of NHRIs in the UN human rights system, it would be a positive step for the resolution make mention of the contribution of NHRIs to informed discussions on the death penalty within the UN system.   

Right to Privacy

The Third Committee will also consider the biennial resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age (led by Germany and Brazil).  It is expected that the resolution will focus on data protection. The last Third Committee resolution on the issue, at the 69th Session, was adopted by consensus and encouraged the Human Rights Council to establish a Special Procedure on the promotion and protection of the right to privacy. The Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy was appointed in July 2015. The Third Committee will hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on 24 October 2016.

Protecting children from bullying

Protecting children from bullying will be the focus of a resolution led by Mexico.  The Secretary General's report 'Protecting Children from Bullying' (A/71/213) notes that children that are 'perceived as having a sexual orientation or gender identity different from what is seen as the norm' can already face stigmatization, discrimination or exclusion, and are more likely to be bullied both in person and online.  ISHR hopes co-sponsors will make explicit reference to this phenomenon and defend the language during the negotiation process to secure its inclusion. 

Treaty Body Strengthening Report

The Secretary General’s report on the status of the treaty body system (A/71/118), a biennial report requested by the GA, has been issued, and its budgetary implications are expected to be considered by the Fifth Committee.  



Photo: FlickR, Luke Redmond