Third Committee Opens Seventy-Sixth Session amid Calls for Vaccine Equity, Closing Entrenched Divides that Keep Women, Minority Groups Oppressed

General Assembly President Says Cooperation ‘Paramount’ to Strengthening Trust in United Nations, Calls for Improved Consensus-Building

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) opened its seventy-sixth session today, with delegates emphasizing the importance of protecting the most vulnerable groups — women, children, older persons, indigenous people and minorities among them — as the pandemic continued to claim lives and livelihoods around the globe.

Addressing the Committee as it began its work, General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid (Maldives) called the forum “the bedrock of delivering concrete improvements for the lives of the people we serve”.  At the same time, enhancing consensus and cooperation in its work is “paramount to strengthening the trust of people in the United Nations system and in multilateralism”.

He went on to list the challenges ahead, including climate change, gender equality, racism and xenophobia.  The Committee must take decisive action, he said, creating and developing policies to fight against the social, humanitarian and cultural divides that have only deepened during the pandemic.

During their general debate, delegations recognized the entrenched roadblocks to delivering on their social development commitments, with many focusing on the pandemic and the inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

The representative of Gabon, speaking on behalf of the Group of African States, noted with concern that only a miniscule amount — some 2 per cent — of more than 5.7 billion doses had actually reached the arms of people in Africa.  International efforts are needed to ensure that equitable distribution is stepped up, he said.

In a similar vein, Guinea’s delegate, speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, called for equal access to vaccines at prices that are affordable.  To achieve this, several mechanisms could be deployed, including the World Trade Organization’s intellectual property rights agreement, he said, recommending that COVID-19 vaccines be considered global public goods.  Guatemala’s representative, speaking for the Central American Integration System, similarly called for the vaccine to be shared around the globe at a nominal price, given that the pandemic had disproportionately impacted those living in extreme poverty.

Delegates readily acknowledged that the challenges ahead are not limited to the pandemic.  They also spoke of continued discrimination and hardships faced by women, children, older persons, the lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex community, those living with disabilities, ethnic and racial minorities, migrants and indigenous peoples.

Malawi’s delegate, speaking for the Southern African Development Community (SADC), emphasized that gender equality is a fundamental human right required for the full realization of social development.  He went on to describe the Community’s Protocol on Gender and Development, established with the aim of achieving full gender parity throughout the region.

The representative of Mexico, speaking for the Group of Friends of Indigenous Peoples, described myriad obstacles.  Pointing to the cultural diversity of indigenous communities, she said the vast number of indigenous languages have a vital role to play in maintaining the identity of these populations.  However, these identities are in jeopardy, she warned, as “every two weeks, somewhere in the world, a spoken language dies with its last speaker”.

South Africa’s delegate, speaking for the LGBTI Core Group, noted that despite great strides made since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, 68 countries criminalized consensual same-sex relationships.  There are 13 countries that have laws criminalizing the existence of transgender persons, while an additional 37 criminalize them by weaponizing existing laws.  All such legislation should be eliminated.  “Everyone should live free and equal independently of who they are and who they love,” she said.

The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, took the opportunity to highlight the plight of child labourers, expressing concern over an increase in such behaviour for the first time since 2001.  With that in mind, the European Union and the Latin American and Caribbean Group will bring a resolution on child rights to the Committee during this session, he said.

Several delegations spoke out against racism, xenophobia and intolerance, with Azerbaijan’s delegate, speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement, noting that migrants often bore the brunt of such attacks.  States should demonstrate that there is no impunity for perpetrators by bringing the force of existing law to bear on them.

Nigeria’s representative, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, meanwhile, noted that hate speech during the pandemic had led to increased discrimination against Africans and those of African descent, as well as Asians and those of Asian descent.

In other business, delegates expressed their views on three programmes under the Committee’s proposed 2022 budget (programmes 14, 20 and 24) on which the Committee on Programme Coordination did not provide recommendations.  The representatives of Brazil, Egypt, Cuba, Russian Federation and Syria said these programmes should be reviewed by the Third Committee and then be sent to the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Financial) for review.  The representatives of the United Kingdom, United States and an observer for the European Union meanwhile said they should be addressed by the Fifth Committee alone.

The Committee then approved its organization of work.

Also speaking today were representatives of China (on behalf of a group of countries), Chile (on behalf of the Group of Older Persons), Malaysia (on behalf of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)), Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, Croatia, Pakistan, Israel, Ghana, Philippines, Peru, Liechtenstein, Singapore, Afghanistan, Canada, Qatar, Kyrgyzstan, New Zealand, Turkey, South Africa, Chile, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Kenya, Netherlands, Zambia, Cyprus, Finland, Greece, Cambodia, Argentina, Norway and Australia.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of Syria, Belarus, China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Turkey, Canada and Cyprus.

The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 1 October, to continue its debate on social development.


AHMED TIDIANE SAKHO (Guinea), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, called for the recognition of COVID-19 vaccines as global public goods.  International solidarity is needed to support developing countries during the recovery phase.  He stressed that discussions on social development should continue to focus on the impact of COVID-19 and address the different forms of inequality, by implementing the 1995 World Summit for Social Development outcome and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  He reiterated the importance of ensuring equitable access to vaccines at affordable prices, by using the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights and the WTO Doha Declaration.  He also urged the international community to eliminate extraterritorial laws against developing countries.  Expressing support for the Durban Declaration and its Programme of Action, which provide a comprehensive roadmap to end to racial discrimination, he said strengthening multilateralism and promoting North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation is essential for fostering sustainable development.  Further, the international community should prioritize family policies and address discrimination against older persons.  Noting that his delegation will submit four draft resolutions during the seventy-sixth session, he invited Member States to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the International Year of the Family in 2024.  He concluded by reaffirming support for the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action and emphasizing the need to eliminate all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls.

MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon), speaking on behalf of the Group of African States and associating with the Group of 77 and China, commended the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention for its efforts to fight COVID-19.  Recognizing the WHO’s lead role in controlling the spread of the virus, he drew attention to the socioeconomic consequences of the pandemic.  He expressed concern about the continued obstacles to distributing the vaccine in Africa, as only 2 per cent of more than 5.7 billion doses have been administered there.  Pointing to the controversy around recognition of vaccines and vaccine passports, he called for intensified international solidarity to ensure fair and equal distribution.  Advocating for accessibility and affordability for everyone, including those in vulnerable situations, he urged the international community to reinforce laws that prohibit racial discrimination and to help ensure their implementation.  Recognizing the importance of international and national strategies, as well as a monitoring mechanism to eradicate extreme poverty, he underscored the need to empower women in rural areas and in conflict-stricken economies, and affirmed that the advancement of women is a priority for the African Group.

ZHANG JUN (China), speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said Member States should address the pandemic with a global response based on unity.  He expressed concern over use of unilateral coercive measures, which run counter to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and cause a shortage in essential supplies such as food, water and medical equipment needed to combat COVID-19.  He pointed to the Secretary-General’s 26 March appeal to waive sanctions that undermine countries’ capacities to respond to the pandemic, calling for the immediate lifting of unilateral coercive measures, so that all countries have adequate resources for pandemic response, and humanitarian aid can reach those in need without any delay.

MATHU JOYINI (South Africa), speaking on behalf of the LGBTI Core Group, said that since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, nine countries have decriminalized consensual same-sex relations and one country has decriminalized the existence of transgender persons.  However, 68 countries still criminalize consensual same-sex relations de jure and de facto, 13 explicitly criminalize transgender persons and 37 countries criminalize them through vagrancy, prostitution, morality, public nuisance or other laws.  She expressed support for the mandate of the United Nations Independent Expert on Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, stressing that social inclusion requires dismantling all legislation that criminalizes sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, and that negates a person’s identity.  “Everyone should live free and equal independently of who they are and who they love”, she affirmed, calling for full decriminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity by 2030.

SILVIO GONZATO, representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, reiterated that human rights principles must remain at the heart of multilateralism.  The European Union will continue to support the International Criminal Court and the work of the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, and of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders.  He called for improving the work of the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations by making its decisions “more transparent and accountable, preventing politicized and unjustified deferrals, and avoiding the permanent re-election of the members in the NGO Committee”.  Noting that 2021 was proclaimed International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, he expressed regret that data pointed to an increase in child labour around the world for the first time in 20 years.  Together with the Latin American and Caribbean Group, the European Union will present a resolution on children’s rights, in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals.  He went on to announce that a resolution on the freedom of religion also would be presented, underscoring more broadly that the European Union remains fully committed to the promotion of gender equality through the implementation of the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and the 1994 Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development.  Commenting on the situation in several countries, he advocated respect for human rights in Afghanistan, Myanmar, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, China, Belarus, the Tigray region of Ethiopia and in Syria.  He expressed regret that several countries still refuse to cooperate with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the human rights mechanisms.

MILENKO ESTEBAN SKOKNIC TAPIA (Chile), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said that during the pandemic, reduced care and violence against older persons have been on the rise.  As COVID-19 is responsible for eight out of 10 deaths among older persons, this age group should be prioritized to receive vaccines.  It is urgent to place older persons at the centre of public policies and to create an agenda that aids recovery efforts.  The pandemic has also amplified widespread discrimination against older persons, with cases of neglect on the rise since it began.  Support, accountability and protection should be provided.  He called for a forward-looking approach, as older persons can make a significant contribution to the sustainable development of their societies if their full participation is promoted.  It is therefore imperative to fully empower older persons so that they can be active agents and beneficiaries of change.

JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Indigenous Peoples, pointed out that indigenous peoples represent 6.2 per cent of the world’s population and the greater part of its cultural diversity.  They speak the majority of the world’s languages and their lands are among the planet’s most biodiverse and resource rich.  The pandemic has put a spotlight on the poverty, food insecurity and lack of access to adequate health and social services faced by indigenous peoples, she said, calling the pandemic as much a health crisis as a socioeconomic one.  Underscoring indigenous peoples’ right to traditional medicines and health practices, she stressed the importance of ensuring equitable distribution of safe and effective vaccines and access to health services.  She called for the protection of indigenous human rights defenders, who all too often face attacks and reprisals, expressing concern over the loss of indigenous lands and territories and denouncing that indigenous women and girls face a “shadow pandemic” as they confront higher levels of discrimination.  Indigenous languages play an integral role in maintaining the identity and vitality of indigenous cultures and traditional knowledge, she explained, warning that languages are disappearing at an alarming rate:  “Every two weeks, somewhere in the world, a spoken language dies with its last speaker,” she said.

PERKS MASTER CLEMENCY LIGOYA (Malawi), speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said his delegation has a long history of commitment to promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.  It recognizes gender equality as a fundamental human right and an integral part of regional integration, economic growth and social development.  Discrimination based on gender is one of the greatest impediments to development, while the promotion of gender equality is an effective means of eradicating poverty.  The Community’s Protocol on Gender and Development outlines the commitment to remove all barriers towards the achievement of gender equality at the regional and national levels.  Stressing that multidimensional poverty is on the rise due to the pandemic, he said COVID-19 also has disrupted health and education services.  The provision of education keeps girls in school and postpones marriages, he added.

SYED MOHAMAD HASRIN AIDID (Malaysia), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), reaffirmed his commitment to achieving the 2030 Agenda, in line with the ASEAN Community Vision 2025.  He emphasized the bloc’s role in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic through its recovery efforts and emergency health response.  He also thanked the COVAX Facility for making vaccines affordable to all.  Ensuring the protection and inclusion of its people is a priority for ASEAN, he said the group is working with the international community on these issues.  On the promotion of gender equality, he reiterated the group’s commitment during the 2020 ASEAN Women Leaders’ Summit, noting more broadly that the elimination of violence against children is an urgent priority and that ASEAN had been working towards advancing children’s rights by fighting child labour.  Underlining the region’s approach to transnational crimes, he recalled its zero-tolerance approach on illicit drugs and its initiatives to build up capacity on cyber defense. The pandemic is a reminder that the world is at a crossroads and needs international collaboration to address global challenges, he concluded.

LEYLA NOVRUZ (Azerbaijan), on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, reaffirmed the necessity of the right to self-determination.  Recalling the right of Palestinians to self-determination and a two-State solution based on pre-1967 borders, she said Israel, as an occupying Power, must be held accountable for its systematic violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in all occupied territories.  All human rights are universal, interdependent and interrelated, she explained.  Human rights issues must be addressed through global constructive dialogue, considering the political, social and religious particularities of each country.  She voiced concern over racism and xenophobia against migrants and called on States to reinforce existing law in order to eradicate impunity for those who commit xenophobic and racist acts.  The Non-Aligned Movement is committed to protecting all universal human rights, in particular the right to development, she affirmed, drawing attention to the ongoing food crisis and calling for coordinated, sustainable action to address and prevent it.  She also warned that unilaterally imposed measures undermine the United Nations Charter and international law.

LUIS ANTONIO LAM PADILLA (Guatemala), speaking on behalf of the Central American Integration System, said its member countries are facing an economic and health care crisis.  The pandemic has shed light on extreme poverty and climate change challenges faced by many.  Healthcare systems are addressing the pandemic in accordance with guidance from the Pan-American Health Organization and WHO.  Explaining that his group cooperates on cross-border issues when dealing with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and when addressing other health care issues, he said its member countries have appealed for the vaccines to be accessible and shared freely across the world at affordable prices.  Forward-thinking measures have been taken to establish national equality plans and improve the situation of women.  More broadly, he recognized the roles of transit, origin and destination countries in protecting the human rights of migrants, reaffirming the commitment to promote the rights of all persons and ensure a world free of xenophobia and intolerance.

NNAMDI OKECHUKWU NZE (Nigeria), speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said the global fight against racism, xenophobia and intolerance must remain a priority.  Everyone is born free in dignity, he stressed, with respect for human rights underpinning the development of societies.  Recalling that the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action provide a comprehensive foundation for combatting racism, he said the fight against racism and xenophobia remains a long and arduous task, as persistent gaps remain in the implementation of these instruments.  During the pandemic, misinformation and hate speech have led to a surge in discrimination against Africans and Asians, as well as people of African and Asian descent, he said, stressing that it is time to ensure equality for the victims of slavery and colonialism.

Mr. TREJO MUNGCIA, Youth delegate of Mexico, said the international commitment to multilateralism and human rights must be renewed, as COVID-19 has impacted the enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedom of persons living in situations of vulnerability.  Underscoring that close cooperation with the universal human rights system has had a positive impact on changes within Mexico, he reaffirmed his country’s openness to international scrutiny.  Calling for international cooperation, he reiterated Mexico’s commitment to promote the rights of all vulnerable persons, notably women and girls, boys, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and refugees.  Mexico has a feminist foreign policy that seeks to ensure gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, he added.

ABDALLAH Y. AL-MOUALLIMI (Saudi Arabia) underlined his country’s proactive role in addressing the pandemic, specifically through financial assistance and facilitation of vaccine delivery.  Saudi Arabia is committed to providing assistance to countries that have been most gravely affected by natural and humanitarian disasters, he explained, pointing out that it is the largest donor to Yemen, with assistance surpassing $18 billion in the past six years.  He further underlined that women represent a strong component of society and advocated for their political and social empowerment.  For its part, Saudi Arabia has enacted reforms based on the principle of positive discrimination for women, ensuring their access to a growing number of senior positions, and undertaking efforts to protect all women

KARL LAGATIE (Belgium), endorsing the statement by the European Union, declared that ensuring the application of human rights is an obligation for everyone and that the violation of women’s rights is unacceptable.  In this regard, he shared his concerns about the situation in Afghanistan, stressing that “gender equality must be an essential policy of the goals of the United Nations”.  Recalling the twentieth anniversary of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, he also advocated for the strengthening of LGBTQI rights, and pointed to Belgium’s Action Plan against racism.  To that end, Belgium has engaged in the third universal periodical review and in constructive dialogues with two committees.  Transparency must be part of these mechanisms and dialogues, he observed, noting that civil society also has a pivotal role to play in the protection of human rights.  He concluded by inviting other countries to support Belgium’s application to the Human Rights Council for the 2023-2025 term.

ANDREJ DOGAN (Croatia) said that after nearly two years of the pandemic, “building back better” requires respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and democracy.  This is particularly important in view of climate change, which is increasingly impacting water supply, food, sanitation and housing.  The global community must act together to find solutions to this most pressing challenge.  The role of women and girls must be further bolstered in society.  Croatia places the rights of women and girls high on its agenda and is considering the best ways it can contribute to the Generation Equality Forum.  It is also implementing several initiatives aimed at addressing employment equality and providing better assistance to victims of gender-based violence.

MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan) said the right to self-determination is a foundation for the enjoyment of all rights, including that of development, adding that the General Assembly has reaffirmed its abiding commitment to self-determination in several landmark resolutions.  The right was established as a legal and moral justification for the decolonization process, yet its exercise has been denied to some people, including the people of Jammu and Kashmir.  On 5 August 2019, India annexed occupied Jammu and Kashmir in what its leaders have ominously called a “final solution”.  Through its illegal actions, India extrajudicially killed hundreds of Kashmiri boys and used rape as a weapon of war.  Expressions of racial hatred and violent nationalism have escalated in several parts of the world.  Islamophobia is on the rise and has become the official policy of India, where Muslims are being disenfranchised, evicted from their homes and killed with impunity, he stressed.

MICHAEL BARUCH BAROR (Israel) said challenges related to women, persons with disabilities or the elderly cannot be viewed in isolation but must be addressed through a holistic approach.  The Third Committee is tasked with addressing topics that define humanity, such as combating discrimination and creating equal opportunities for all.  “In this regard, it is hard to say we are doing a very good job,” he said, stressing that a framework is needed to address racism.  Israel will continue to push for gender equality, particularly in the provision of proper health care services.  It is also dedicated to eliminating barriers against persons living with disabilities.

HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana), aligning himself with the African Group and the Group of 77, voiced support for effective social policies to be a key driver towards a better pandemic recovery, that reduces poverty and fosters inclusive societies.  Ghana supports gender equality and the rights of the child through legislative and constitutional measures, he said, calling on Member States to implement, among other things, poverty-eradication policies that promote sustainable livelihoods for women.  As the pandemic revealed a digital divide among students that affects girls’ empowerment and well-being, he called on States to take decisive steps to close this gap.  Ghana endorses the Secretary-General’s recommendation to prioritize the attainment of racial equality in implementing the 2030 Agenda and is working to address the dire, socioeconomic conditions that heighten vulnerabilities to such crimes as human trafficking.  Fully supporting all international human rights instruments, he said the Declaration on the Right to Development complements the framework of civil and political rights, and States parties must help to address the root causes of related violations.

ABDULLA SHAHID (Maldives), President of the General Assembly, addressed the Third Committee and noted its crucial role in setting in motion the political, economic, humanitarian and social changes needed in societies around the globe. “The Third Committee is the bedrock of delivering concrete improvements for the lives of the people we serve,” he said.  “Enhancing consensus and cooperation in its work is paramount to strengthening the trust of people in the United Nations system and in multilateralism”.  Describing the enormity of the challenges ahead — climate change, COVID-19 and social unrest among them — he said the Committee must formulate and build on action-oriented policies to counter the spiraling social, humanitarian and cultural issues that have multiplied amid the pandemic.

The importance of human rights is unquestionable and commitment to them must be unwavering, he said, including by addressing gender equality, empowering young people and tackling racism, inequalities and injustices.  On gender equality, he said he had met with women leaders during the Assembly’s high-level week and intended to follow up with a “listening tour,” hearing directly from women and girls about what can be done better, and from civil society representatives, who serve as potential drivers and amplifiers of the United Nations’ work.  Other priorities include vaccine equity, sustainable recovery from the pandemic and efforts to tackle racism and xenophobia.  With that in mind, he championed affordable, accessible and non-discriminatory access to vaccines, noting that in June 2022, he will convene an informal high-level meeting to commemorate the first International Day for Countering Hate Speech, building upon the Political Declaration adopted during the twentieth commemoration of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action.  He encouraged Member States and other stakeholders to participate in the discussions ahead and to commit to humanitarian efforts.

ENRIQUE A. MANALO (Philippines) said COVID-19 continues to cause community quarantines and has tested the limits of the national health care system.  While vaccines help some cities return to normal, unequal access must be urgently addressed, as 80 per cent of doses went to upper- and high-income countries.  Calling on States and stakeholders to treat vaccines as a global public good and to work together towards their equitable global distribution, he highlighted his country’s $1 million contribution to the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility, participation in WHO-led trials and administration of more than 41.2 million doses.  More broadly, he said the Philippines has long been a staunch advocate of the rights of women, children, older persons, persons with disabilities and migrants.  With the pandemic exacerbating inequalities, discrimination and violence against these groups, the Government has adopted the Safe Spaces Act, anti-trafficking mechanisms and social protection programmes.  Migrants positively contribute to the development of countries of origin, transit and destination, while playing key roles in COVID-19 response and recovery, he said, adding that the Philippines and Indonesia will again table a related draft resolution.  In addition, the Philippines respects the value of constructive engagement and genuine dialogue in enhancing human rights on the ground as opposed to unilateral and politicized approaches, he said.

GONZALO ARNALDO RIVERA ROLDAN (Peru) stressed the importance of initiatives declaring vaccines as global public goods and allowing them to be accessible to all in a just and equitable way with no exclusions.  He expressed Peru’s commitment to support any effort that relies upon cooperation and multilateral action to eliminate extreme poverty and achieve Sustainable Development Goal 1 (end poverty).  Economic growth alone cannot guarantee sustainable development; the social component is fundamental.  “During crisis, we saw the rich getting richer,” he said, voicing concern over the rise in poverty.  Supporting the Secretary General’s call for a new global social contract where public policies are people-centred in order to create a more inclusive and just society, he reiterated Peru’s commitment to protect human rights and the rule of law.  Calling for gender equality and women’s empowerment, he underscored the importance of promoting reproductive and sexual rights.  Further, it is of utmost importance that all necessary measures for children’s protection and development, particularly related to health and education, are reflected.  He expressed concern over the digital divide within and among countries, noting that Internet access is essential in order to exercise other rights.

MYRIAM OEHRI (Liechtenstein) said the pandemic has undermined respect for human rights and exposed profound injustices and inequalities between and within States.  She expressed concern about the negative impact of measures taken to counter the pandemic on the full enjoyment of human rights, especially the right to education, civil and political rights, and gender equality.  The discrimination, racism and xenophobia stemming from the pandemic are deeply disturbing, she stressed, adding that women and girls in particular have been deprived of their rights and experienced shadow pandemics.  COVID-19 has had devastating effects on the right to education, with the closure of schools and universities interrupting learning and compounding the multiple inequalities impacting children.  She voiced concern about ongoing human rights violations in Syria and Myanmar, where sexual and gender-based violence, arbitrary detention, torture and extrajudicial killings remain a sad reality.  More than 350,000 individuals have been killed during the 10-year conflict in Syria, while more than 1,000 people have been murdered and more than 230,000 civilians forcibly displaced by the military junta in Myanmar.

JUN LIANG MARK SEAH (Singapore) called on all countries to commit to “vaccine multilateralism”, ensuring affordable, fair and equitable access to vaccines, and to support the central role of the World Health Organization (WHO) in coordinating international health responses.  Singapore is fully committed to upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he said, citing the Government’s objective to build a fair and inclusive society for all Singaporeans.  Stressing the need to promote the well-being of children, older persons, persons with disabilities and women, he drew attention to the KidSTART programme, which provides holistic support for the health, social and development needs of children from low-income families.  Singapore also remains committed to empowering women and girls as fully equal members of society and has declared 2021 the “Year of Celebrating Singapore Women”.  The country is firmly committed to upholding its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and to overcoming the scourge of racism, discrimination and intolerance, he added.

NAZIR AHMAD FOSHANJI (Afghanistan), endorsing statements by the Group of 77 and China and the Non-Aligned Movement, described the situation in his country where millions of people — in particular, women and girls — have suffered violations of their human rights since the “illegal seizure of power by the Taliban” on 15 August.  He expressed gratitude to the international community for its solidarity and the United Nations High-Level Ministerial Dialogue organized on 13 September.  The “Taliban regime” has brutally suppressed peaceful demonstrations, threatening human rights achievements from the past 20 years.  He reported that journalists have been arrested, women have been deprived of their education rights and extrajudicial killings have taken place.  He called on the international community to act now by sending a United Nations human rights fact-finding mission to Afghanistan and holding the Taliban accountable.  Establishing an inclusive Government representing all the people of Afghanistan is the only way to achieve peace and prosperity, he assured.

ROBERT KEITH RAE (Canada), acknowledging that the Committee is gathering on unceded territory of the Lenape people, said today marks the first ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.  Established on the advice of survivors of Canada’s colonial residential school system, which removed indigenous children from their culture and communities, the commemoration brings Canadians together to reflect on this painful legacy on the heels of the recent discovery of many unmarked graves of young students who attended these institutions.  Highlighting several concerns, he said the world must focus its attention on the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan, redouble efforts to support human rights in conflict-affected States, including Ethiopia, and proceed with an investigation into reports of egregious abuses in Xinjiang.  Recognizing international partners’ support for the Declaration on Arbitrary Detention, he emphasized that the rule of law must uphold fundamental rights and freedoms, including in Belarus, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Myanmar, Syria and Venezuela.  Going forward, the 2030 Agenda principles must guide the world towards a rights-based, gender-transformative COVID-19 recovery, with inclusive decision-making as the cornerstone of democracy.

ALYA AHMED SAIF AL-THANI (Qatar) said her country takes pride in the fact that it ranks second globally in terms of the percentage of the population who received one dose of the vaccine and fifth worldwide in terms of its fully vaccinated population.  Qatar considers the special needs of women in its pandemic response, she explained, noting that the Government looks forward to implementing General Assembly resolution 75/275 on the “International Day of Women Judges” and to celebrating the first such Day on 10 March 2022.  Qatar spared no effort in supporting countries and organizations in combatting the pandemic, providing $140 million to fight the virus and to assist in the distribution of vaccines, particularly to countries in dire need.

MIRGUL MOLDOISAEVA (Kyrgyzstan) attached great importance to the strengthening of human rights and the rule of law.  Her country places a strong emphasis on countering ethnic and religious discrimination, she said, highlighting the importance of dialogue and calling on all countries to promote tolerance and respect for all religions and beliefs.  She similarly called for gender equality to empower all women and girls in line with the 2030 Agenda.  Kyrgyzstan remains committed to implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child and stands for the protection and promotion of children’s rights, as well as the rights of persons with disabilities.  The Government also provides legal and social protection to migrants.  On the situation in Afghanistan, she said Kyrgyzstan will accept 500 university students, focusing primarily on women and girls.

GENNADY V. KUZMIN (Russian Federation) said the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has had a profound impact on the social development and wellbeing of people around the world.  Paradoxically, however, it is the current situation that has provided an effective impetus to accelerate its pace and change the ways in which objectives are pursued.  Challenges to achieving gender equality and the advancement of women require particular attention and coordinated efforts by all States concerned, he stressed, adding that the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is the main intergovernmental forum for constructive dialogue on the full range of issues related to women.  He raised concern that the Council has not managed to make any significant contribution to improving the human rights situation in specific countries.  “It therefore looks like the Council has fallen short of its mandate,” he said, adding that this situation cannot be tolerated.  Drawing attention to the impact of anti-COVID restrictions introduced in many countries of the world, he underscored that the current crisis has set us back by decades and impoverished the world’s population.  The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted structural inequalities and discrimination against indigenous peoples, he asserted.

CRAIG JOHN HAWKE (New Zealand) underscored his country’s commitment to implementing international human rights commitments, both domestically and globally, efforts that are grounded in the Charter of the United Nations.  The pandemic has both highlighted and exacerbated existing inequalities, he said, noting that minority groups are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and the responses to it.  At the same time, the climate crisis looms, bringing with it more challenges to the enjoyment of human rights, an issue acutely felt in New Zealand’s own region.  The global community must work together with a common purpose, he observed, as enhancing well-being for all must be at the forefront of the Organization’s work.

RAZIYE BILGE KOCYIGIT GRBA (Turkey) described her country’s human-rights based approach to addressing COVID-19, marked by the provision of treatment and vaccines free of charge to refugees.  Given the pandemic’s negative impact on gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, she reaffirmed Turkey’s commitment to improving their living standards and rights.  Citing Turkey as the largest refugee-hosting country in the world, with 1 million Syrian children, she expressed concern about the adverse effects of COVID-19 on children’s well-being.  Turkey aims at full compliance with international standards through its human rights action plan, launched in March, which was drafted on the basis of European Union law in broad-based consultation with relevant stakeholders.  She pointed to the obstacles preventing millions of people from fully enjoying their human rights, referring to the emergence of extremist political ideologies in Europe.  She attached importance to the protection of the Uyghur Turks and other Muslims, while underscoring respect for China’s territorial integrity.  Turkey has established a constructive bilateral dialogue with China on this matter and she expressed hope that the High Commissioner for Human Rights would soon visit the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region.  She went on to call for an end to the oppression of Palestinians, accountability for the “Syrian regime for their crimes against humanity”, and immediate attention to the situation in Afghanistan to avoid a refugee crisis, demanding that criminal perpetrators also be held accountable in Libya.

XOLISA MFUNDISO MABHONGO (South Africa), aligning himself with SADC, the African Group and the Group of 77, said the pandemic has increased displacement across the world, including in Africa, placing these populations at even greater risk.  Vaccine nationalism is not a solution, he assured, noting that the pandemic will not end until it has ended in all countries.  Vaccines should be global public goods, accessible to everyone.  Stressing that gender equality is of utmost importance to South Africa, he said women comprise half of the Government’s executive branch.  Access to education by women and girls has also improved.  Highlighting an uptick in the trafficking of arms and drugs, he underscored the crucial importance of penalties for such acts.

MILENKO ESTEBAN SKOKNIC TAPIA (Chile), speaking in his national capacity, said the pandemic has revealed human greatness as well as human vulnerability.  For its part, Chile has improved its social fabric as a result of the crisis, ensuring greater dignity and a human rights focus.  During the pandemic, restrictions were put in place, but these measures must not impact human rights.  The Third Committee has a special responsibility to breathe new life into international cooperation and to mainstream human rights, particularly for the most vulnerable, in its efforts to end this crisis.

MAURIZIO MASSARI (Italy) said the world must multiply efforts to make societies more equal, inclusive, greener and fairer, at a time when the pandemic has exacerbated human rights abuses and violations.  Member States must ensure human rights are protected and promoted, on and offline, and within the private sector, as the rapid development of digital technologies offers both great opportunities and new challenges.  Promoting gender equality and fighting gender-based violence is essential, especially when events in Afghanistan are jeopardizing hard-won gains in the field of women’s rights.  Other priorities for Italy include protecting children and fighting against multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, including safeguarding the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons (LGBTI).  Italy will introduce a draft resolution on crime prevention and criminal justice, he said, adding that press freedom is also high on the national agenda.  In addition, Italy remains engaged in ensuring young people’s full participation in global decision-making processes, including the twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26).

ADRIAN DOMINIK HAURI (Switzerland) endorsed the Secretary General’s call for reinvigorated multilateralism.  “The human rights pillar of the United Nations is of the utmost importance,” he said, recognizing the value of the treaty bodies, the Human Rights Council and the Third Committee.  He requested urgent action to address the disastrous effects of climate change and the environmental degradation on human rights, as well as the respect for human rights when dealing with the consequences of COVID-19.  Switzerland is committed to ensuring the participation of women and girls in reconstruction programmes.  He reiterated support for the freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, drawing attention to the deterioration of these rights in recent years.  He went on to underline the importance of protecting human rights in the digital space.  Observing that several States have shut down the Internet during elections, threatening citizens’ rights, he called for an end to these activities.  He also reaffirmed support for the International Criminal Court and international accountability mechanisms.

MARÍA BASSOLS DELGADO (Spain), associating herself with the European Union, said the human rights of women and girls continue to be jeopardized by violence and discrimination across the world, particularly in Afghanistan.  Noting that gender equality is a priority for Spain, she said her country participates in the Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action Compact.  With Germany, Spain will table a new resolution on the human right to potable water and sanitation during the current session.  The control and prevention of infectious disease enjoys an indispensable ally in these very rights, she said. The violence suffered by LGBTI persons and the fact that their rights are not guaranteed is a continued concern.  LGBTI persons must be able to enjoy their human rights on the same footing as everyone else.

JOHN KYOVI MUTUA (Kenya), associating with the African Group and the Group of 77 and China, reiterated the importance of global multilateralism and unity.  He called for vaccine equity and unhindered vaccine access for developing and least developed countries.  Inclusive development is essential for achieving the 2030 Agenda, he said, underscoring the fundamental importance of gender equality, as women and girls have been disproportionately disadvantaged by COVID-19.  He called for international cooperation to guarantee access to inclusive education through digital technologies and similarly stressed the importance of ensuring equal access to affordable, accessible medical coverage.  Social protection systems play a pivotal role in economic recovery for low-income families who have been hit by the pandemic.   For its part, Kenya is committed to upholding the principles of international refugee protection through its respect for international and domestic policies, he said, noting that all human rights — including to development — are universal.

The representative of the Netherlands said there are three major threats in the fight for equal rights in health care.  The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that gender diversity, ethnicity, lifestyle factors and socioeconomic circumstances are crucial determinants of health.  Women health-care workers are overrepresented at “the lower-paid frontlines” in the fight against COVID-19, often while also caring for their families.  The closure of schools and child-care facilities meanwhile has led to job losses and increased stress at home.  A further threat to equality is cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death for women worldwide.  Women also face the additional challenge of the climate crisis, she said, noting that climate change affects both biodiversity and food systems, posing new health threats to families, particularly children.  As a result, policymakers and all health professionals must be engaged in the urgent global response to climate change.  To achieve greater gender equality in health care, more gender-sensitive strategies should be implemented in all fields of medical care, she asserted.

NGOSA SIMBYAKULA (Zambia) outlined the Government’s poverty reduction efforts, including policies to mitigate climate change and the pandemic’s far-reaching impact.  It has streamlined social protection programmes to reach the most vulnerable, redesigned a farmers’ support project and developed a national policy on ageing.  Currently hosting almost 100,000 refugees, asylum seekers and persons of concern, Zambia works with development partners to offer them basic services, including a resettlement scheme that has locally integrated 6 per cent of former Angolan and Rwandan refugees.  Zambia will continue to work towards improving access to education, health and social protection, he said, adding targeted efforts include ensuring girls have equal access to schools.

ANDREAS HADJICHRYSANTHOU (Cyprus), associating herself with the European Union, highlighted the egregious human rights violations Turkey has been perpetrating in her country since 1974.  Turkey must take steps to, among other things, advance efforts on the issue of missing persons, a humanitarian issue that remains “an open wound” for hundreds of families on the island.  The fate of 992, out of the 2002 missing persons, is still to be determined, while Turkey refuses to provide valuable information from its military archives that could lead to the location and identification of a considerable number of them, including information on the deliberate relocation of remains.  As a result of Turkey’s armed aggression, more than 200,000 Greek Cypriots were internally displaced and continue to be denied the right to return to their ancestral homes, which are being unlawfully exploited by others, including illegal settlers.  “We have been raising the human rights violations committed in Cyprus by Turkey for the past 47 years,” she said.  “We will continue to do so until these have been redressed, as a prerequisite and an integral element of achieving a just, comprehensive and sustainable solution to the Cyprus problem, on the basis of the relevant Security Council resolutions”.

JUKKA SALOVAARA (Finland) noted the negative impact that COVID-19 has had on vulnerable people, in particular women and girls.  Observing that decades of progress is at risk, he called on the Committee to address gender equality.  The situation in Afghanistan has underlined the importance of protecting human rights of everyone.  Women and girls must be able to make decisions regarding their own bodies, he added.  He reiterated support for a strong multilateral system based on the United Nations and inclusive human rights.  He advocated for the voice of civil society to be heard in discussions on gender-based violence.  He then gave the floor to two youth delegates, who noted that during the pandemic even progressive States passed laws depriving women of their rights.  They called for accountability and the implementation of national plans to protect women’s rights.

MARIA THEOFILI (Greece), aligning herself with the European Union, said the world must come together to deal with the ruthless climate crisis.  Thanking partners who helped Greece battle heatwaves and wildfires in 2021, she said the Government is taking steps towards a greener future, including closing its lignite electricity production plants by 2028 and adopting a green transition plan.  Regarding the gender divide, she drew attention to the situation in many parts of the world, where women and girls are striving for security, body autonomy and their rights.  Bridging the peace divide is another priority area.  Sustainable peace requires that the world, among other things, bridges the divide between the rich and the poor while promoting and protecting human rights, relief and recovery, empowerment and participation.  Turning to the situation in Cyprus, she said Greece steadfastly maintains that no agreed settlement is possible without the abolition of the anachronistic system of guarantees and third-party intervention rights and the full withdrawal of the illegally deployed Turkish occupation troops.

CHANSORACHANA SIENG (Cambodia) endorsed the statements by ASEAN, the Group of 77 developing countries and China, the Non-Aligned Movement and the like-minded Group on Unilateral Coercive Measures, highlighting Cambodia’s involvement in the protection of human rights through the Office of the Special Rapporteur, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the universal periodic review and reporting under the treaty bodies.  He called for ending unilateral sanctions against developing countries.  Praising his country’s promotion of gender equality and women’s rights, he underscored its commitment to working with the private sector and development partners.  He went on to say that Cambodia’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols reflects its commitment to children’s rights, reaffirming that protecting the rights of persons with disabilities is another priority.

MARÍA DEL CARMEN SQUEFF (Argentina) said the pandemic has led to a human rights crisis, worsening hunger and alarming levels of poverty.  It is Argentina’s priority to guarantee the recognition and effective enjoyment of the rights of all women, girls and LGBTI persons, she asserted, underscoring the importance of ensuring the same opportunities and rights for all.  To this end, Argentina passed the law guaranteeing health care during pregnancy and early childhood, broadening benefits and rights for women.  Reaffirming her country’s constant commitment to the promotion and full protection of human rights for older persons, she called for the establishment of an international instrument that would guarantee the full enjoyment of their human rights and human dignity.

MONA JUUL (Norway) said the pandemic’s consequences on the protection and promotion of human rights continue to be dramatic, and will undoubtedly have long‑lasting effects, from education to health care.  Going forward, human rights, the rule of law and democracy must be at the centre of recovery efforts, including adequate protection of human rights defenders.  Highlighting several priorities, she said the Generation Equality Forum earlier this year was a stark reminder that the work to end discrimination against women and girls is far from over.  Recovery efforts must have a gender perspective and must be inclusive to, among other things, better address the needs of persons with disabilities.  An efficient United Nations must be at the heart of these efforts, she said, echoing the Secretary-General’s recommendations that the world must embrace a comprehensive vision of human rights.  “This is not only the right way, but also the most effective to continue to fight the pandemic and to build a better future for all,” she said.

MITCH FIFIELD (Australia) said human rights remain central to international cooperation and decision‑making, not only in relation to COVID-19, but also on climate change, peace and security, and other global health issues.  He urged Member States and the United Nations to facilitate civil society participation amid shrinking civic space during the pandemic and the muting of civil society.  Greatly concerned that arbitrary arrests, detentions and sentencings influence State-to-State relations, he expressed support for international efforts to deter these practices.  The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities, including for LGBTI people, indigenous peoples and people with disabilities, and has disproportionately affected women and girls, he said, emphasizing that:  “As we seek to recover from COVID-19, we need a strong, multilateral human rights system to ensure accountability, transparency and the continued protection, promotion and respect of human rights.”  Indeed, the role of the United Nations in protecting human rights is more important than ever before.  Australia continues to champion the principles of indivisibility, interdependence, universality and inalienability of human rights, and rejects attempts to reframe the consensus around international law, he assured.

Right of Reply

The representative of Syria, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said certain Member States are exploiting the Third Committee’s platform to undermine the credibility of its work and should instead lift sanctions against her country and other nations, which consequently face grave humanitarian conditions.  In response to the European Union, she said Syria desperately needs medications.  To the delegations that mentioned cross-border access, she said that, following many obstacles placed by Turkey, humanitarian programmes approved by the Government of Syria have been able to reach communities in need.  The war has cost the lives of thousands of Syrians, and the consequences of Turkey’s activities have had a negative effect, she said.

The representative of Belarus said it is unacceptable for the European Union to call a delegation a “regime”.  He rejected biased assessments of human rights in other nations.  Because of the hybrid war against Belarus, the Government will take all steps to protect its sovereignty.  Noting that a UNHCR delegation had completed a visit to Belarus last week, he said the European Union is trying to shift its migration problem to his country.

The representative of China rejected baseless allegations made by his counterparts from the United States and Canada.  Xinjiang has been carrying out counter-terrorism efforts and now enjoys stability, including improved human rights conditions.  Certain countries choose to politicize issues and practise double standards, he said, wondering why they always target developing countries.  China is a country governed by the rule of law, he said, expressing hope that Canada will stop distorting facts and instead examine its own treatment of indigenous people, particularly considering the mass graves of children recently discovered.

The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea rejected the allegations made by the European Union, which continues to undermine his country.  The European Union violates human rights, he said, referring to cases of xenophobia and other actions and urging the bloc to clean up its own lands instead of looking at others.

The representative of Turkey said her counterpart from Greece portrayed an altered view of history.  Recalling that, between 1963 and 1974, more than 180,000 Turkish Cypriots had been displaced and hundreds went missing, she said actions have been taken to address the issue of missing persons and other concerns, including a movable property commission to provide a remedy to claims in Varosha.  There are no human rights lessons to be learned from a regime that has tortured Syrians for years, she said, rejecting claims made by her counterpart from Syria.

The representative of Canada called on China to allow immediate access to Xinjiang for human rights observers.  Canada applied Canadian and international law in response to two Canadian citizens who had recently returned home after being incarcerated in China, she said, thanking partners for their help.  The rights of indigenous people are an immense cause for reflection in Canada, she said, adding that today is the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.

The representative of Cyprus, responding to the statement made by her counterpart from Turkey, said it is undeniable that human rights violations stem from Turkey’s invasion and ongoing occupation.  Such violations cannot be normalized because they have continued for decades, she said, adding that Turkey’s recent expansionist policies are attempting to impose a permanent division on the island.


Source: United Nations