There has been considerable attention paid, over recent years, to the relationship between the Human Rights Council and the Third Committee of the General Assembly. Do these two key human rights bodies form a coherent whole, with each playing a clearly-defined and logical role in the overall UN human rights system? Or is the relationship more characterised by incoherence, duplication and contradiction? One way of answering such questions is to look at the degree of overlap between resolutions adopted by the Council and those adopted, in the same calendar year, by the Third Committee.
With this in mind, the Universal Rights Group (URG) has conducted a comparative analysis of the texts adopted this year in the two bodies. The methodology used for this assessment was the same as that employed for previous comparative analyses of the Council and the Third Committee covering the periods of 2012-2013, 2014-2015, and 2017.
In 2018 the Council passed 86 resolutions (see URG’s reports on HRC37, HRC38 and HRC39), and the Third Committee 57 resolutions (see URG NYC’s post session report). Of those 57 texts, 39 can be said to be human rights-related (adopted under Third Committee agenda items 29, 69, 70 71,72, 73 and 74).
The basic finding of the 2018 analysis is that there remains significant overlap/duplication between the resolutions of the two bodies. 54% of Third Committee human rights resolutions in 2018 had a prima facie equivalent (judging by the resolution titles) adopted by the Council the same year. 8% were functionally identical (same content), 8% elaborated upon corresponding Council texts, and 5% had significant overlap. In total, therefore, 21% of Third Committee human rights texts in 2018 had a high degree of overlap/duplication with corresponding Council texts. If one adds those texts that displayed a lesser degree of overlap (though some overlap – i.e. more than 10% of content the same), the proportion jumps to 66%.
When compared with the same analysis for resolutions adopted in 2012 and 2013, we find a margin improvement in reducing unnecessary duplication between the bodies. In 2012-2013, 7% of texts were functionally identical, 6% elaborated on corresponding Council texts, and 14% had significant overlap. Overall, therefore, 27% of Third Committee human rights texts had a high degree of overlap/duplication with corresponding Council texts (compared to 21% in 2018). If one adds those texts with some degree of lesser overlap, the figure rose to 40% (compared to 66% this year).
URG also undertook the same exercise for the years 2014 and 2015. During those two years, 21% were functionally identical, elaborative of significantly overlapping with Council texts adopted the same year. Including texts with some degree of overlap, the overall figure rose to 48% (compared to 66% this year.)
Overall, therefore, compared to previous years, in 2018 the Third Committee adopted the same proportion of resolutions with a high degree of overlap with corresponding Council texts (21%) as it did during the years 2014 and 2015, and somewhat less then in 2012 and 2013 – 27%. However, if one includes texts with some (significant) degree of overlap, 2018 was worse (in terms of duplication – 66%) than either 2012-2o13 (40%) or 2014-2015 (48%).
What does this mean? The above results perhaps suggest that States are making some efforts to not table resolutions with the same titles (i.e. under the same human rights initiatives) in both Geneva and New York during the same calendar year. Most likely, some States have decided to ‘stagger’ the tabling of resolutions on the same subjects between the Council and the Third Committee (i.e. the text is tabled one year in Geneva, and the next in New York). This hypothesis is supported by the proportion of Third Committee human rights texts adopted in 2018 that have a prima facie (i.e. same title) equivalent adopted by the Council in 2018 – 54%. This is lower than in both 2012-2013 (56%) and 2014-2015 (59%). The UN has also made progress since 2012-2013 in moving away from adopting highly duplicative (in terms of content) resolutions in Geneva and New York in the same calendar year. However, if one includes resolutions were there was some (significant) degree of substantive overlap, 2018 was the worst-ever year for the Council-Third Committee relationship (66% of all human rights texts). This suggests that, where States have not made an effort to stagger the tabling of resolutions, the practice of ‘copying and pasting’ Council wording into GA texts remains prevalent. This represents a waste of time and resources.
Overlap in 2018
The below graph illustrates the prima facie (i.e. resolution titles) overlap between Third Committee human rights texts, and Council texts. URG’s comparative analysis found 21 out of 39 Third Committee human rights texts in 2018 (54%), had a direct equivalent resolution adopted by the Council in 2018.
In detail, URG New York’s analysis found:
- 21 of 39 Third Committee human rights texts focused on human rights issues had a prima facie HRC equivalent (judging by their titles). This corresponds to 54% of Third Committee human rights resolutions.
- 3 Third Committee texts were functionally identical to their closest Council counterpart (8% of Third Committee human rights resolutions).
- 3 Third Committee texts either elaborated upon, or were elaborated upon by, their closest Council counterpart (8% Third Committee human rights resolutions).
- 2 resolutions (around 5% of Third Committee human rights resolutions) contained significant overlap with their closest Council counterpart.
- 18 resolutions (46% of Third Committee human rights resolutions) contained some degree of overlap with their closest Council counterpart.
- 5 texts (13% of Third Committee human rights resolutions) contained no overlap or less than 10% (content) overlap with their closest Council counterpart (i.e. the equivalence was only in the title).
What’s the point?
One of the new Third Committee resolutions passed in 2018 was on the subject of ‘The Declaration on the Rights of Peasants,’ This was virtually identical to the resolution of the same name passed in the Council in 2018. It is difficult to see what this achieves? It is surely the role of the GA to simply acknowledge the adoption of such resolutions by the Council?
China also re-tabled a version of its new Council resolution on ‘Mutually beneficial cooperation’ (‘win-win’) at the Third Committee. The Third Committee text, with the slightly different title of ‘enhancement of international cooperation’ and sponsored jointly by China and Cuba, had approximately 40% substantive overlap compared with the earlier Council text.Interestingly, while the US called a vote on the resolution at the Council, in the Third Committee the resolution passed by consensus.
‘Reopening’ the report of the Council
Another tell-tale sign of the level of coherence in the Council-Third Committee relationship is how the latter deals with the annual report of the former. In that regard, 2018 was a positive year as there was no attempt to ‘reopen’ the report of the Council and the report was adopted without a vote.
That does not mean some States at the Third Committee did not complain or express doubts about aspects of the Council’s work in 2018. For example (and as is always the case), some States criticised or refused to recognise country-specific resolutions passed by the Council, while Burundi tried to prevent the Chair of the COI on Burundi, established by the Council and told to report to the GA from doing so, (they failed).
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