Forecast of key developments at the UN General Assembly 68th session


Image of opening of GA 68th sessionThe Third Committee of the General Assembly meets at UN Headquarters in New York from 7 October to 27 November 2013.

UN logo. Photo by UN Photo.

Image of opening of GA 68th sessionThe Third Committee of the General Assembly meets at UN Headquarters in New York from 7 October to 27 November 2013. The General Assembly delegates most of its human rights-related work to its Third Committee, including consideration of the annual report of the Human Rights Council, interactive dialogues with invited special procedures and treaty body chairpersons, and the negotiation of some 50 human rights resolutions.

Key resolutions

Human Rights Defenders

Norway will table the biennial resolution on human rights defenders, which has historically been adopted by consensus. This year the resolution, for the first time, will take a thematic approach and focus on women human rights defenders. The text will build on previous reports on this issue by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders (including A/HRC/16/44 (2010) and E/CN.4/2002/106). The resolution follows a strong resolution on protecting human rights defenders passed by the Human Rights Council in March 2013.

The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders’ report to the General Assembly focuses on the relationship between large-scale development projects and the activities of human rights defenders (A/68/262). The report highlights the need for a human-rights based approach to development within the context of the post-2015 development agenda, emphasizing equality and non-discrimination, participation, and transparency and accountability.

Country Resolutions

Four country-specific resolutions are expected again this year: on the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea (DPRK) (EU-led), Iran (Canada-led), Myanmar (EU-led) and Syria (led last year by Morocco, Qatar and Saudi Arabia). Both Syria and Iran will be voted, but it is hoped that the texts on the DPRK and on Myanmar will be adopted by consensus again this year. A live question is whether opponents to the Iran text will revive their use of 'no-action' motion, a procedural tactic to derail the consideration of resolutions, which was not used last year due to lack of support.

Despite some positive political developments in Myanmar, there is widespread agreement that the human rights situation on the ground, including for many ethnic groups, has not improved enough for the resolution to be discontinued. However the EU will likely run a shorter and more focused text this year. NGOs continue to encourage the retention and expansion of language on accountability, which Myanmar ‘reserved’ on last year.

Other resolutions of note include:

Human rights and counter-terrorism (led by Mexico): This year both the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions and the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism will address the issue of drones and the effect of drones on civilians. It remains to be seen if the topic of drones will be incorporated into the resolution.

Right to truth (led by Argentina): This resolution, traditionally debated and adopted in Geneva at the Human Rights Council, will be taken up at the UN General Assembly in New York for the first time. 

National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) (led by Germany): It remains to be seen if the General Assembly will take up the question of NHRI access and participation to the GA as requested in HRC resolution 20/14 (HRC/RES/20/14).

Rights to water and sanitation (led by Spain and Germany): In 2010 Bolivia sponsored a resolution that supported the right to water as a stand-alone right that proved to be very polemic. The reframing of the issue, which avoids a call for creating a new Convention, may be more acceptable to States.

Strengthening the role of the UN in enhancing periodic and genuine elections and the promotion of democratization (led by the USA): This biennial resolution, which essentially extends the mandate of the Electoral Division of the Department of Political Affairs, has traditionally passed by consensus.

Early and forced marriage (Canada): This is a new initiative at the Third Committee, following the passage of a resolution at the HRC in September 2013 on the same topic. It is unlikely to be contentious since the resolution is expected to be procedural in nature and to set the stage for future General Assembly debates.

Combating intolerance and incitement (led by Egypt on behalf of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)): The resolution is one of the most contentious each session, due to the polarising and persistent debates on issues such as defamation of religion and blasphemy, including within the OIC, with last year’s consensus threatened until the eleventh hour. It is hoped that consensus will again be preserved this year.

Freedom of religion and belief (led by the EU): This text was held together by a fragile consensus last year - a situation likely to play out again this year due to the interplay between this text and the aforementioned Combating intolerance and incitement. The EU text last year was weakened in the end, giving up new language on protection of religious minorities, and on the right to conversion, in exchange for the OIC dropping defamation language from its own resolution.

Interactive dialogues

The Third Committee will hold dialogues with forty-nine Special Procedure mandate holders, Independent Experts, Chairs of Working Groups and Chairs of treaty bodies. In addition, the President of the Human Rights Council will present the Council’s annual report to the Third Committee on 13 November 2013 and to the plenary of the General Assembly (date TBD).

As in previous years, it is likely that some States will criticise the reports of certain Special Procedures. Previously the Third Committee’s disapproval of reports has escalated to personal attacks on mandate holders and accusations that they have not complied with the Code of Conduct for Special Procedures. Similar concerns remain this year in relation to the following reports:

Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as punishment (A/68/295): The Special Rapporteur’s report focuses on the review of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners from the perspective of the prohibition of torture. In his report the Special Rapporteur urges the application of the Rules with no discrimination, on grounds prohibited under international law, including, inter alia, gender or other identity and sexual orientation (SOGI). The reference to SOGI may provoke members of the OIC and several African States who, in recent years, have resisted efforts to address this issue at the UN.

Extreme poverty and human rights (A/68/293): The Special Rapporteur’s report focuses on the cross-cutting nature of the issue of unpaid care work and challenges the stereotypical, traditional male and female roles in order to promote the concept of shared family responsibility for unpaid care work in the home. This may be an issue for States who have been championing the so-called ‘traditional values’ agenda at the UN.

Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (not yet issued): It is anticipated that the Special Rapporteur’s report will focus on the use of drones including, inter alia, the legal aspects of their use and the implications on the right to life.

Promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism (A/68/298): The Special Rapporteur’s report highlights the civilian impact of drones.

Freedom of religion or belief (A/68/290): The Special Rapporteur’s report focuses on the relationship between freedom of religion or belief and equality between men and women. 

Right to freedom of association (A/68/299): The SR's report focuses on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the context of elections. The SR also identifies several countries where political parties and civil society have been subject to violations or undue restrictions in regards to the right to freedom of association (including in Belarus, Iran, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Russia, Rwanda, Swaziland, Venezuela and Zimbabwe).

The Third Committee will also review the reports of mandate-holders on various country situations, including on Iran, Eritrea (oral update), Belarus (A/68/276), Myanmar, DPRK (A/68/319), and the Palestinian territories.

Other developments

OHCHR budget

The Secretary General has called for budget reductions of approximately 5% across the Secretariat to ensure fair, equitable and non-selective treatment of all budget sections. However, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is being asked to make these cuts during a time when Member States are making unprecedented demands on the Office without providing the corresponding resources. These budget cuts also do not consider that OHCHR already has a disproportionately small allocation of the overall UN regular budget (approximately 3%), despite being one of three main pillars of the UN (the others being security and development).

The Treaty Body Strengthening Process

The Third Committee will be confronted by requests from several treaty bodies for additional funding and meeting time to deal with backlogs. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Human Rights Committee, and the Committee on Migrant Workers have all included requests in their annual reports to the General Assembly.

CEDAW’s request, to be tabled by Norway, is for one extra week in pre-session and to re-establish the practice of a full session annually in New York. The request by the Human Rights Committee, to be tabled by Finland, is for one additional meeting week in 2014 and one additional meeting week in 2015 to deal with a backlog of communications under the Optional Protocol. The Committee on Migrant Workers has asked for one additional plenary week of meeting time but no State has yet to come forward to table this request. These requests are complicated by the fact that it remains unclear what kind of sustained support the treaty bodies will receive through the ongoing intergovernmental process on treaty-body strengthening.

Human Rights Council Elections

The Human Rights Council elections will take place on 12 November 2013.


Photo: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas. John Ashe (centre), President of the General Assembly, chairs the opening of the general debate of the Assembly’s sixty-eighth session. He is flanked by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) and Tegegnework Gettu, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management.


  • Human rights defenders
  • LGBT rights
  • Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
  • Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Special Rapporteur on HRDs
  • UN General Assembly
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies
  • Argentina
  • Belarus
  • Canada
  • Egypt
  • Eritrea
  • Germany
  • Iran
  • Malaysia
  • Mexico
  • Morocco
  • Myanmar
  • Nicaragua
  • North Korea
  • Palestinian Territory
  • Qatar
  • Russia
  • Rwanda
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Spain
  • Swaziland
  • Syria
  • United States
  • Venezuela
  • Zimbabwe