Report on the 75th session of the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly

by URG-NYC Team Blog, Blog, Instituciones, procesos y mecanismos de derechos humanos internacionales, New York City, Universal Rights Group NYC

Quick summary

  • During the 75th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), the Third Committee, tasked with addressing human rights issues and concerns, ran from 5 October – 20 November at UN Headquarters in New York, and online (due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
  • This year’s Third Committee featured presentations by a number of senior UN officials, including Ms. Michelle Bachelet, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, H.E. Ms. Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, President of the Human Rights Council, and Ms. Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights. The full list can be found here.
  • The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Bachelet, delivered her address to the Third Committee on 14 October and held an interactive dialogue with member States. 
  • On 13 November the UNGA held elections for membership to the Human Rights Council (for three year terms (2021-2023)).  More information about candidates and new members can be found here
  • The Third Committee considered 113 reports spanning all items on the agenda. 
  • 63 mandate holders and other experts, representing 55 thematic mandates and 8 country-specific mandates, submitted reports. Find the full list here. Member States, either individually or jointly, offered over 650 questions and comments.
  • The Third Committee adopted 50 resolutions: 31 by consensus (62%) and 19 by vote (38%). At least 2 have clear budget implications.
  • During voting, 34 written amendments and 1 oral amendment were put forward by a handful of States. 33 were rejected, 1 was withdrawn and 1 was approved.
  • This session of the Third Committee saw the adoption of 3 new resolutions.
  • URG will shortly release a detailed comparative analysis of Third Committee resolutions and Human Rights Council resolutions passed in 2020, to determine the precise degree of overlap and duplication. 
  • Curious about how this year’s Third Committee compares to previous sessions? Check out our Post-Session report for 2019 and our Post-Session report for 2018. For more information about the resolutions and Human Rights Council Sessions leading up to this year’s Third Committee, see our 2020 Inside Track for the Third Committee.

UNGA high-level week

On 30 September 2020, the President of the UNGA convened a Biodiversity Summit under the theme ‘Urgent action on biodiversity for sustainable development.’ The summit brought together heads of State to discuss biodiversity loss and its devastating effects. The summit also addressed the link between the end of the Decade on Biodiversity (2011-2020) and the beginning of the Decade of Action (2020-2030). Topics like technology, COVID-19, and financing, as well as finding nature-based solutions, were also discussed. The summit concluded with a message from UNGA President H.E. Mr. Volkan Bozkır who said that dealing with biodiversity loss would require transformational levels of social and economic change. These changes would be difficult, but he insisted they are not impossible. 

On 1 October 2020, there was a high-level meeting on the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing + 25). The meeting was called to commemorate the Beijing Declaration and followed the theme of ‘Accelerating the realisation of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.’ High-ranking UN officials as well as experts in the field were invited to speak on gender equality and in the plenary, attention was drawn to the Political Declaration adopted by the Commission on the Status of Women (E/2020/27), which identified myriad strategies for measuring progress.

The high-level plenary meeting to commemorate and promote the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons took place on 2 October 2020. The meeting focused in particular on the need for renewed commitment to global nuclear disarmament. As this year marked the 75th anniversary of the UN, the meeting concluded with a call to improve the mobilisation of global efforts towards achieving this goal.

Finally, a high-level meeting to officially commemorate the 75th anniversary of the UN was held on 21 September and concluded on 26 October, with addresses by UN dignitaries, mostly virtual speeches by world leaders and youth representatives, and a video featuring Beyoncé. Many noted the prescience of the theme: ‘The future we want, the United Nations we need: reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism.’ World leaders adopted a ‘Declaration on the commemoration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations’ setting out 12 commitments including to build trust and to upgrade the United Nations. Speakers also reflected on the UN75 report released by the UN in September, in an effort to reflect on and better its ability to serve the world, and based on consultation with people from every country. The results showed mixed perceptions of the UN from the general public, but a strong desire for the UN to protect and promote human rights. Read more about the UN75 meetings and reports in URG’s blog.

High-level dignitaries

Prior to the start of the Third Committee, world leaders engaged in the general debate of the General Assembly. The debate, chaired by UNGA President Mr. Bozkir, took place from 15 September to 22 September 2020. This general debate featured 190 UN member State representatives including heads of State, heads of government, and ministers. Due to COVID-19 precautions, every address was delivered virtually through a pre-recorded statement, introduced in person by a representative of that State’s UN delegation. The theme ‘The future we want, the United Nations we need: reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism’ echoed throughout the debate. Unfortunately, only nine women speakers participated, less than last year’s thirteen women speakers.

URG NYC completed a detailed analysis of all speeches delivered and identified references to 77 human rights-related topics or subjects. This year, the topic with by far the most engagement was the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 was mentioned by nearly every country and in every region, often as a link to other human rights related issues like health, education, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Many States also mentioned the implications of COVID-19 for democracy as well as the proliferation of related disinformation, a topic that received more attention this year than in previous year’s debates.

Following COVID-19, climate change and, just behind, Agenda 2030 and the SDGs, were the two most discussed topics. Poverty, women’s rights/gender equality, and inequality also received considerable attention from dignitaries. In terms of country-specific areas of concern, world leaders primarily raised Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Libya, the Sahel, Syria, Venezuela, Iran, Libya, Yemen, DPRK, Western Sahara, and Afghanistan. Due to recent developments, Belarus, which had not been mentioned in previous years, was raised as an area of concern.

On the 75th anniversary of the UN, the general debate exposed deepening geopolitical tensions while also shining a light on optimism for the future of the UN and the possibilities of a unified world. As his Excellency David Kabua, President of the Marshall Islands remarked: ‘The UN setting is vital, and as member States we cannot let it further risk irrelevance at the hour when it is most needed.’

Key topics of concern related to human rights referenced by world leaders:

For additional word clouds, data and details, see URG’s full analysis here.

High Commissioner for Human Rights

On 14 October, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, addressed the Third Committee, and engaged in an interactive dialogue with member States. As in all sessions of the Third Committee this year, the High Commissioner spoke of the impact of COVID-19, and the consequences it has had in terms of human suffering, weakened medical systems, economic damage, restrictions on civil and political rights, progress on sustainable development, and peace and security. In this context, she called for human rights-based policy responses, the easing of sanctions, and access to a vaccine as a global public good. A number of States echoed Bachelet’s concerns that the pandemic had directly caused, or allowed leaders to usher in, restrictions on human rights, and called for human rights to be integrated into response plans.

The High Commissioner drew an explicit link between achieving the SDGs and conflict prevention: ‘I am convinced that this work will also help to effectively prevent conflicts in the longer term, by addressing the root causes of many crises and tensions.’ She echoed calls from other parts of the UN for urgent debt relief to grant States room to deliver on these rights. She also pointed to new OHCHR efforts in the context of elections, as part of a broader push on prevention in the UN. Bachelet ended her statement with a reminder that the UN’s ‘cash-flow crisis has severely restricted the availability of resources’, a concern several States agreed with during the dialogue. She expressed optimism that better use of digital platforms might help with resource constraints, particularly for the Treaty Body System, with the caveat that digital working ‘has its limits’ and some mandates can only be fulfilled in person.

The Republic of Korea gave a statement on behalf of the Human Rights/Prevention Caucus, calling for greater cooperation between the OHCHR, Human Rights Council and Peacebuilding Commission and for ‘the pillar to receive necessary resources from the budget to fulfil its mandated activities.’ The High Commissioner welcomed the work of States to improve connections between New York and Geneva and said that all three pillars of the UN ‘must work together much more.’ In a nod to work on prevention, she also said that the pandemic ‘has shown the value of human rights in preventing, mitigating and overcoming the worst impacts of crises, whether in the form of pandemics, violent conflicts or the climate emergency.’

48 States (and the EU) participated in the interactive dialogue, represented in the following graph by regional group.

For additional details, read URG’s blog post here, and watch the full speech and interactive dialogue here.

President of the Human Rights Council

On 30 October, Human Rights Council President, Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, gave an address to the Third Committee and engaged in an interactive dialogue with member States. She spoke about COVID-19 and the recent work of the Council, describing the pandemic as a major human rights crisis. She pointed to the participation of civil society at the Council in helping to maintain the connection to what is happening on the ground, and to the UPR as a ‘critical tool in country-level work’. Like the High Commissioner, the President raised the impact of the UN liquidity crisis, including that it is forcing some Council activities to be postponed.

With this dialogue occurring only a few weeks after the passage in Geneva of a landmark resolution on the role of the Council on prevention, many States aired their views on the subject. One delegate felt the maxim ‘prevention is better than cure’ should apply to human rights too, and hence asked how the Council could better mainstream its work on prevention. Others spoke of the need to improve the linkages between human rights and prevention, between the Security Council and the Human Rights Council, and between New York and Geneva in general.

However, there was wariness from other States who felt that the prevention resolution went beyond the Council’s mandate, or had concerns about a broadening of the Council’s powers and including human rights at the Security Council. In response, the Council President noted that while different bodies have distinct roles, they should be working with each other, comparing notes, and exchanging information and analyses. She remarked: ‘This is one UN system. We are living in the same world, watching the same developments… nobody cares out in the world if it’s one body or the other, so it’s important that we are on the same page.’

33 States (and the EU) participated in the interactive dialogue, represented in the following graph by regional group.

Read URG’s full analysis of both the High Commissioner and the HRC President’s statements and interactive dialogues here. Watch the full speech and interactive dialogue here.

Mandate holders and experts

  • 63 mandate holders and experts (55 thematic, 8 country-specific), representing Special Procedures and Investigative Mechanisms of the Council, such as Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts, Chairs of Commissions of Inquiry, Chairs of Working Groups, and Chairs of Treaty Body Committees submitted reports to the Third Committee. Find the full list here.
  • States, either individually or jointly, offered over 650 questions or comments. Due to the session being held virtually, there were a few technical difficulties, but there was still a higher level of participation than last year.
  • 51 remarks/questions came from the Africa Group (7.7%); 174 from the APG (26.3%); 90 from EEG (13.6%); 107 from GRULAC (16.2%); and 237 from WEOG (35.9%).
  • Special Procedures with the most interaction from States included the presentations from the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences (28 comments/questions); Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus (27 comments/questions); Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities (22 comments/questions); and the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy (28 comments/questions).
  • Small Island Developing States (SIDS) participated 18 times and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) participated 44 times in these interactive dialogues. This is an increase from previous years, however SIDS/LDCs were still overall underrepresented in Third Committee discussions. Further, this number does not indicate the participation of distinct SIDS/LDCs as some more vocal States spoke multiple times. In particular, interventions by Cuba account for the majority of this participation.

Graph of participation by regional group for each expert:

Graph of total participation by regional group for the general discussion of all agenda items at the Third Committee:

Human Rights Council elections

Elections for membership of the Human Rights Council (for three year terms, 2021–2023) took place on 14 October in New York. The newly elected member States (and the number of votes they received) are Côte d’Ivoire (182), Gabon (176), Malawi (180), Senegal (188), China (139), Nepal (150), Pakistan (166), Uzbekistan (169), Russian Federation (158), Ukraine (166), Bolivia (172), Cuba (170), Mexico (175), France (175), and the United Kingdom (175).

This election saw an increase in clean slates from 2019, with 4 out of the 5 regional groups having clean slates: AG, EEG, GRULAC, and WEOG. In the only regional group without a clean slate, the APG, Saudi Arabia did not receive sufficient votes and was not elected. Despite a number of member States still having never served on the Council, only two new States were elected: Uzbekistan and Malawi. Unfortunately, SIDS and LDCs remain the most underrepresented groups on the Council, with only one SIDS (Cuba) and two LDCs (Malawi and Nepal) joining the Council from the group, all of whom had served on the Council before.

Go to yourHRC for more information. To learn more about how yourHRC tools can assist member States with future elections, check out this useful blog

Third Committee general debate and interactive dialogue highlights

The Third Committee began with a general debate in which delegates overwhelmingly examined social development through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the impact of the pandemic on progress on the SDGs, and the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable communities including the elderly, those with disabilities, women and children, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities. Delegates also recognised how the pandemic exacerbated existing inequalities, including in the areas of gender and race. The majority expressed support for the World Health Organization (WHO) and several delegates called for treatments and vaccines to be accessible to all. However, the discussion became divided between delegates concerned about the ‘politicisation’ of human rights, which they believe infringes on sovereignty, and those in strong favour of the multitude of human rights instruments and conventions upholding them.

Rapporteurs and experts at the Third Committee also reflected on the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on racial minorities and race-based discrimination. In response to protests in the US over police brutality against Black Americans, the Human Rights Council had held a special session in June, passing resolution 43/2. During the general debate at UNGA, a number of world leaders also raised the issue of persistent racism. On 2 November, Ms. Yanduan Li, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, noted how racist hate speech and hate crimes, particularly on social media, had been amplified by the pandemic. Ms. Dominique Day, Chair of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent reflected that despite the global momentum, ‘persistent racial injustice is still met with denial or justifications from people with the power to solve persistent problems.’ She quoted African American poet Langston Hughes’ famous line ‘what happens to a dream deferred,’ in noting that ‘even at the founding of the UN and the establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human rights remained a dream deferred for people of African descent.’

On 2 November, Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) for Human Rights, Ms. Ilze Brands Kehris presented three reports of the Secretary-General, two of which addressed discrimination based on race. Report A/75/363 on the International Decade for People of African Descent highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic magnified existing patterns of discrimination, and A/75/561 contained recommendations for ending racism, xenophobia and related intolerance. During the subsequent interactive dialogues with ASG Brands Kehris, delegates welcomed in particular the ASG’s efforts to include civil society and to end reprisals against those cooperating with the UN system. Like the High Commissioner and the HRC President, the ASG also commented on the UN’s liquidity crisis, recalling that human rights is one of the Organisation’s three pillars and yet continues to be under-resourced.

On 27 October, the Special Rapporteur on the right to a healthy environment, Mr. David Boyd, introduced his report A/75/161, pointing out that States have failed to meet any of the 2010 targets of the Convention on Biodiversity. Mr. Boyd noted that the fundamental right of every person to live in a safe, healthy environment is recognised by 87 percent of member States and that the right to a safe and healthy environment should be recognised by a UN resolution as soon as possible, which will spark stronger environmental policies and legislation across the globe. (For more information see URG’s related blog and video on the right to a healthy environment).

On 27 October, Ms. Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, described mass graves as an ‘underground map of atrocity’ across human history, reflecting on dozens of mass graves uncovered in 2020, and pointed out that no single coherent human rights framework exists for the management of these sites. Her report A/75/384 represents a rights-based approach to the management of mass graves: ‘Those marginalised or persecuted in life are also those who are at greatest risk of never being identified in death.’

Resolutions

The 75th session of the Third Committee concluded with the adoption of 50 resolutions (including those led by ECOSOC); 31 by consensus (62%) and 19 by vote (38%). 

For reference, the 74th session of the Third Committee saw 70% resolutions pass by consensus and 30% by vote, and at both the 73rd (2018) session and the 72nd (2017) session of the Third Committee, 65% of resolutions passed by consensus and 35% by vote.

45 (90%) of this year’s adopted resolutions were thematic in nature, while 5 (10%) dealt with country-specific situations. Only 2 had clear/immediate budget implications.

States submitted 35 written amendments; 1 was passed, 1 was withdrawn, 33 were rejected.

 

Agenda

Item

Symbol Title Lead sponsors PBI New resource requirements Adoption Date of adoption
27(a) A/C.3/75/L.7/Rev.1 Implementation of the outcome of the World Summit for Social Development and of the twenty-fourth special session of the General Assembly Guyana 

(on behalf of the Group of 77 and China)

Vote

(174-2-0)

14th meeting

19 November 2020

27(b) A/C.3/75/L.2 Follow-up to the Second World Assembly on Ageing Guyana 

(on behalf of the Group of 77 and China)

Consensus 7th meeting

13 November 2020

27(b) A/C.3/75/L.3 Follow-up to the twentieth anniversary of the International Year of the Family and beyond Guyana 

(on behalf of the Group of 77 and China)

Consensus 7th meeting

13 November 2020

27(b) A/C.3/75/L.9/Rev.1 Inclusive development for and with persons with disabilities Philippines and the United Republic of Tanzania Consensus 7th meeting

13 November 2020

27(c) A/C.3/75/L.12/Rev.1 Literacy for life: shaping future agendas Mongolia  Consensus 8th meeting

16 November 2020

28 A/C.3/75/L.6/Rev.1 Strengthening National and International Rapid Response to the Impact of COVID-19 on Women and Girls Algeria, China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Zambia Consensus (orally revised) 7th meeting

13 November 2020

28 A/C.3/75/L.13/Rev.1 Women and girls and the response to COVID-19 Spain Consensus 7th meeting

13 November 2020

28 A/C.3/75/L.14 Trafficking in women and girls Philippines Consensus 8th meeting

16 November 2020

28 A/C.3/75/L.15 Intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilation Burkina Faso 

(on behalf of African Group)

Consensus 9th meeting

16 November 2020

28 A/C.3/75/L.17 Intensification of efforts to end obstetric fistula Senegal

(on behalf of African Group)

Consensus 8th meeting

16 November 2020

28 A/C.3/75/L.19/Rev.1 Intensification of efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls France and Netherlands Vote

(170-0-11)

9th meeting

16 November 2020

63 A/C.3/75/L.21 Enlargement of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Malawi Consensus 7th meeting

13 November 2020

63 A/C.3/75/L.46 Assistance to refugees returnees and displaced persons in Africa Egypt

(on behalf of African Group)

Consensus 14th meeting

19 November 2020

63 A/C.3/75/L.48 Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Norway (on behalf of Nordic Countries) Vote

(174-0-7)

9th meeting

16 November 2020

67 A/C.3/75/L.44 Report of the Human Rights Council Cameroon 

(on behalf of African Group)

Vote

(115-3-60)

14th meeting

19 November 2020

68(a) A/C.3/75/L.16/Rev.1 Protecting children from bullying Mexico Consensus 9th meeting

16 November 2020

68(a) A/C.3/75/L.18/Rev.1 Child, early and forced marriage Canada and Zambia Consensus 8th meeting

16 November 2020

69(a) A/C.3/75/L.20/Rev.1 Rights of indigenous peoples Ecuador and Bolivia (Plurinational State of) Consensus 14th meeting

19 November 2020

70(a) A/C.3/75/L.49 Combating glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance Russian Federation Vote

(122-2-53)

12th meeting

18 November 2020

70(b) A/C.3/75/L.50/Rev.1 A global call for concrete action for the elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and the comprehensive implementation of and follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action Guyana

(on behalf of Group of 77 and China)

PBI contained in L.88 Vote

(124-12-44)

15th meeting

19 November 2020

70(b) A/C.3/75/L.51/Rev.1 International Day for People of African Descent Costa Rica Consensus 14th meeting

19 November 2020

71 A/C.3/75/L.24 Use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination Cuba Vote

(125-52-7)

10th meeting

17 November 2020

71 A/C.3/75/L.45 The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination Egypt

(on behalf of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC))

Vote

(163-5-10)

14th meeting

19 November 2020

71 A/C.3/75/L.47 Universal realization of the right of peoples to self-determination Pakistan Consensus 15th meeting

19 November 2020

72(a) A/C.3/75/L.39 Human rights treaty body system Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Slovenia and Sweden Consensus 8th meeting

16 November 2020

72(b) A/C.3/75/L.22 Missing persons Azerbaijan Consensus 14th meeting

19 November 2020

72(b) A/C.3/75/L.23 Promotion of peace as a vital requirement for the full enjoyment of all human rights by all Cuba Vote

(128-53-2)

10th meeting

17 November 2020

72(b) A/C.3/75/L.25 Promotion of a democratic and equitable international order Cuba Vote

(121-54-8)

10th meeting

17 November 2020

72(b) A/C.3/75/L.26 The right to food Cuba Vote

(186-2-0)

10th meeting

17 November 2020

72(b) A/C.3/75/L.27 Enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights Cuba 

(on behalf of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM))

Consensus 10th meeting

17 November 2020

72(b) A/C.3/75/L.28 Human rights and unilateral coercive measures Cuba 

(on behalf of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM))

Vote (as orally corrected)

(131-54-1)

10th meeting

17 November 2020

72(b) A/C.3/75/L.29 The right to development Cuba 

(on behalf of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM))

Vote

(133-24-29)

10th meeting

17 November 2020

72(b) A/C.3/75/L.35/Rev.1 Human Rights in the Administration of Justice Austria Consensus 14th meeting

19 November 2020

72(b) A/C.3/75/L.36 Freedom of religion or belief Germany

(on behalf of European Union)

Consensus 15th meeting

19 November 2020

72(b) A/C.3/75/L.37 Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Sweden 

(on behalf of Nordic Countries)

Vote

(122-0-56)

15th meeting

19 November 2020

72(b) A/C.3/75/L.38 The role of Ombudsman and mediator institutions in the promotion and protection of human rights, good governance and the rule of law Morocco Consensus 14th meeting

19 November 2020

72(b) A/C.3/75/L.40 Right to privacy in the digital age Brazil and Germany Consensus 10th meeting

17 November 2020

72(b) A/C.3/75/L.41 Moratorium on the use of the death penalty Albania, Angola, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Mongolia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom Vote (as amended)

(120-39-24)

11th meeting

17 November 2020

72(b) A/C.3/75/L.42 Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping, stigmatization, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons, based on religion and belief Egypt

(on behalf of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC))

Consensus 14th meeting

19 November 2020

72(b) A/C.3/75/L.43/Rev.1 Human rights and extreme poverty Peru Consensus 8th meeting

16 November 2020

72(c) A/C.3/75/L.30 Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Germany 

(on behalf of European Union)

Consensus 12th meeting

18 November 2020

72(c) A/C.3/75/L.31/Rev.1 Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran Canada Vote

(79-32-64)

12th meeting

18 Nov 2020

72(c) A/C.3/75/L.32 Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine Ukraine Vote

(63-22-85)

12th meeting

18 November 2020

72(c) A/C.3/75/L.33 Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic United States Vote (as orally revised and corrected)

(99-13-61)

13th meeting

18 November 2020

72(c) A/C.3/75/L.34 Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar United Arab Emirates (on behalf of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)) and Germany (on behalf of European Union) PBI contained in L.85 Vote

(131-9-31)

13th meeting

18 November 2020

111 A/C.3/75/L.4/Rev.1 Preventing and combating corrupt practices and the transfer of proceeds of corruption, facilitating asset recovery and returning such assets to legitimate owners, in particular to countries of origin, in accordance with the United Nations Convention against Corruption Colombia Consensus 10th meeting

17 November 2020

111 A/C.3/75/L.5 Strengthening and promoting effective measures and international cooperation on organ donation and transplantation to prevent and combat trafficking in persons for the purpose of organ removal and trafficking in human organs Guatemala and Spain Consensus 11th meeting

17 November 2020

111 A/C.3/75/L.8/Rev.1 Strengthening the United Nations crime prevention and criminal justice programme, in particular its technical cooperation capacity Italy Consensus 11th meeting

17 November 2020

111 A/C.3/75/L.11 United Nations African Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders Uganda

(on behalf of African Group)

Consensus 13th meeting

18 November 2020

113 A/C.3/75/L.10/Rev.1 International cooperation to address and counter the world drug problem Mexico Consensus 8th meeting

16 November 2020

Given that many resolutions are biennial and some are triennial, it is useful to compare this year’s 75th session with both the 74th session (2019) and the 73rd session (2018) as well as the 72nd session (2017). This year, fewer resolutions were passed than in previous years, with only 3 new resolutions added. This may be partly because States were requested to rationalise where possible and present technical rollovers of resolutions, given the context of the pandemic and desire to limit in-person meetings. Despite this, 2 of the 3 new resolutions were closely related on the topic of COVID-19 and gender, indicating mixed results on rationalisation. With nearly 40% of the resolutions passing by vote rather than by consensus, this year was similarly contentious as the last couple of years. In terms of amendments however, this year had the highest number of amendments since 2015, but unlike 2015, nearly all of these amendments were rejected.

New resolutions

Strengthening national and international rapid response to the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on women and girls

There were two new resolutions concerned with the particular impact of the pandemic on women and girls, and the need for policy responses that recognise this. The main cosponsors of the first (A/C.3/75/L.6/Rev.1) were Algeria, China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Zambia. 

Women and girls and the response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

The other resolution concerned with the impact of the pandemic on women and girls was sponsored by Spain (A/C.3/75/L.13/Rev.1).

International Day for People of African Descent

Costa Rica sponsored a resolution which proclaims 31 August as International Day for People of African Descent. 

Analysis and conclusions

A closer look

The ‘Human Rights Council report’ resolution A/C.3/75/L.44 was taken up on the final day of voting, presented by Cameroon on behalf of the Africa Group. As has happened during past debates on the report resolution, a delegation speaking on behalf of the European Union expressed concerns about this initiative on procedural grounds, objecting to the fact that the Committee is considering the Human Rights Council resolutions in a generic manner, and noting that the EU would abstain. As is also the custom, several countries who are the subject of country-specific resolutions at the Human Rights Council objected to what they perceived as bias. 

As happened during the interactive dialogues with the High Commissioner and the President of the Human Rights Council, several State delegations took this opportunity to comment on Council activity related to prevention. The representative of the Russian Federation objected to what it perceived as attempts to ‘reform’ the Human Rights Council to be more than a ‘a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly, which reports to the Third Committee.’ The representative of China objected to the resolution passed at the Council from the Commission of Inquiry on Syria (A/HRC/45/31) noting ‘that this text changed the mandate of the Council granted by the General Assembly, by attempting to establish direct contact between the Human Rights Council and the Security Council.’ China noted that it did not support this resolution.

The resolution was adopted by vote with 115 votes in favour, 3 against, and 60 abstentions.

Two resolutions were presented at the Third Committee this year relating to the advancement of women and girls in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, which covered very similar ground on the surface. Both noted the particular impact of the pandemic on women and girls, with domestic violence as a major concern. Some countries (US, Mexico) expressed regret at the multiple resolutions on this topic.

On behalf of Algeria, China, Saudi Arabia and Zambia, Egypt introduced A/C.3/75/L.6/Rev.1: Strengthening National and International Rapid Response to the Impact of COVID-19 on Women and Girls. The resolution called for States to take evidence-based responses and preventive measures to the increase in violence against women and girls. The Egyptian representative stated that the resolution sought to highlight the contributions of developing countries in particular to defending the rights of women and girls, implying this was often forgotten. In discussion, a number of States, mostly from GRULAC and WEOG, raised concerns that the resolution was not sufficiently human rights-based or people-centred. Similar States later praised the Spanish resolution for putting human rights at its centre.

The US proposed three amendments. One (A/C.3/75/L.75), which simply asked to add ‘with full respect for human rights’ to one paragraph, was orally accepted by the sponsors and so withdrawn. The other two asked to remove references to sexual and reproductive health-care services (A/C.3/75/L.72) and to the WHO (A/C.3/75/L.76). Both were rejected by vote (10-134-17 and 2-161-5, respectively).

The resolution, with the oral revision, was then passed by consensus.

Spain introduced A/C.3/75/L.13/Rev.1: Women and girls and the response to COVID-19. This resolution also called for stronger responses to violence, specifically by classing protection and health care services as essential services for women and girls. The Spanish representative explained that the resolution underscores the role of women and girls as ‘fundamental agents’ in solutions to the pandemic and offers a ‘guide for urgent action’ on gender, not covered as a whole in any other part of the UN. He concluded by quoting Simone de Beauvoir that women’s rights are the first to be ‘called into question’ during a crisis and thus, we must remain alert in defence of these rights.

Six written amendments were proposed, four from the Russian Federation and two from the US. Russian amendments sought to add references to commitments on the right to development and weaken some language (from ‘must’ to ‘should’). The US amendments called to remove language on health services perceived as promoting access to abortion and to make clear which decisions were ‘adopted by the General Assembly’, rather than consensus. All were rejected by vote, with broadly similar margins. The resolution was then passed by consensus.

Costa Rica’s proposal for an International Day for People of African Descent was adopted by consensus. The resolution noted the recent Human Rights Council resolution (A/HRC/RES/43/1) which condemned police brutality against people of African descent, and followed the Urgent Debate in the Council on racially inspired human rights violations, systematic racism, and violence against peaceful protests. The resolution passed by consensus with only the United States making a statement of reservation against paragraph 5 of the resolution that focused on an HRC statement from this year that criticised US policing policies. 

A number of resolutions were put to a vote that have previously been adopted by consensus. A/C.3/75/L.19/Rev.1: Intensification of efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, which has since its first iteration in 2014 been adopted by consensus, was adopted by vote this year (170-0-11). A/C.3/75/L.29: The right to development has historically been put to a vote but was adopted by consensus at GA74. This year saw a return to adoption by vote (133-24-29).  

Points of interest 

This year had the most amendments of any Third Committee session since 2015, the second most amendments of any session in the past ten years, and by the far the most amendments to be rejected of any Third Committee session in the past ten years. 31 of 34 written amendments were tabled by either Russia or the US (exceptions were Armenia’s amendments, A/C.3/75/L.52 and A/C.3/75/L.53, to Azerbaijan’s resolution on Missing Persons; and the group amendment to Moratorium on the use of the death penalty)

Russia posted a number of amendments this year, including calling for gender to refer to biological sex, and sometimes objecting to women being singled out (e.g. women peacekeepers, violence against women), while also raising seemingly technical objections. Russia also often objected to what it saw as politicised elements in resolutions or the use of language that did not enjoy universal agreement (‘femicide’ for example). Russian amendments were exclusively on resolutions to which the United States had also proposed amendments.

As in recent years, the US delivered many comments as well as nine proposed amendments (more than in 2019 or 2018) related to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). The US proposed the removal of or dissociated from references to these rights which it argued imply a right to abortion or to access abortion. This is in common with previous years (under the Trump administration) where the US has targeted language on SRHR through statements and amendments, and, as in previous years, other countries expressed regret at attempts by the US to weaken language and disrupt the consensus on SRHR. For instance, Argentina said ‘We cannot accept any moving backwards.’

Several countries expressed regret that Russia and the US had submitted so many written amendments, rather than using the negotiation process that precedes the voting period. The US stated in reply that it had met all deadlines so its amendments were in no way ‘last minute’. Germany gave perhaps the strongest statement on this, saying that amendments go against the working methods of the Committee: ‘Multilateralism requires all member States to act in good faith and make compromises to accommodate all sides. There is no veto in the General Assembly.’

Although a ceasefire deal was agreed to a few days before voting began, Armenia and Azerbaijan continued to give back and forth accusations in comments ahead of votes and in right of reply. For instance, Armenia said that the references to the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Baku in A/C.3/75/L.28 and A/C.3/75/L.29 (both sponsored by the NAM), gave a biased representation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Azerbaijan called this statement misleading to the international community. Resolution A/C.3/75/L.22 on Missing Persons was then presented by Azerbaijan leading to further tension between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Armenia put forth amendment A/C.3/75/L.52 to the resolution which Azerbaijan referred to during voting as ‘irrelevant’. Ultimately, the resolution on Missing Persons was adopted by consensus, while Armenia’s amendment was rejected.

Final thoughts

After leaving the Human Rights Council in 2017, the United States had emphasised that it would continue to champion human rights issues, including at the UN Security Council and Third Committee. In the past two years the US did put forward amendments, a startling number in 2018, but fewer in 2019, prompting some to believe it was taking a more conciliatory approach. But this year, the US returned to written amendments, perceived by many to be disruptive and combative, and as with last year, the US delegation chose to make a statement on almost every resolution. Concerns and topics raised included the fact that resolutions are non-binding, that the US does not recognise the right to development and is not party to the ICESCR, US withdrawal from the WHO and Paris Agreement, lack of US support for the ICC and Rome Statute, and state sovereignty regarding policies on immigration, universal healthcare and trade.

The forceful nature of the US approach, while not out of place with previous years under the Trump administration, would seem to be an odd choice given that while this Third Committee session transpired President Donald Trump lost re-election, and President-elect Joe Biden has laid out a very different approach to the global system, including when it comes to international bodies such as the WHO and Paris Agreement, putting the potency and longevity of US statements at this Third Committee in question.

With the session being held largely virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions, there were a few technical difficulties along the way. While the rules of speaking remained the same, a few countries were unable to voice their comments and questions because of connection failure, microphone malfunction, and translation errors due to audio problems. SIDS/LDCs are still underrepresented in the Third Committee discussions. Even virtually, the crowded agendas and high number of resolutions at the Third Committee make it challenging for small States to find opportunities to engage. This was also an especially challenging period for civil society to engage with the Third Committee, due to COVID-19 restrictions at UNHQ, and no invitation was made for civil society organisations to join online informals.


The information and data presented in this report came from UN Web TV live streaming of Third Committee sessions and recorded videos of Committee sessions; observations made while present in Third Committee sessions; UN Press Releases of Third Committee sessions; The UN General Assembly Third Committee documentation and reports (see more here); confidential conversations with a number of UN missions and civil society representatives.


Featured Photos (in order of appearance):

Third Committee, 13th meeting – General Assembly, 75th session chamber. Screenshot of UN Web TV/75th session of the General Assembly.

Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development Cooperation of Iceland addresses the general debate of the 75th session of the General Assembly of the UN. Screenshot of UN Web TV/75th session of the General Assembly.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations, High Commissioner for Human Rights at the 75th session of the Third Committee. Screenshot from UN Web TV, Virtual Informal (14 October), General Assembly, 75th session

Ms Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, President of the Human Rights Council addresses the 75th session of the Third Committee. Screenshot from UN Web TV, Virtual informal, (30 October, afternoon), General Assembly, 75th session

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity addressing the 75th session of the General Assembly at the UN. Screenshot of UN Web TV/75th session of the General Assembly.

Human Rights Council elections at the 75th session of the General Assembly at the UN. Screenshot of UN Web TV/75th session of the General Assembly. 

Voting on 19 November at the 75th session of the General Assembly at the UN. Screenshot of UN Web TV/75th session of the General Assembly.

Voting on resolution A/C.3/75/L.44 at the 75th session of the General Assembly at the UN. Screenshot of UN Web TV/75th session of the General Assembly. 

All graphs included in this report have been created by the URG NYC team.

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