General Assembly

31st Plenary Meeting of General Assembly 73rd Session

Delegates argue over objectivity, double standards in Human Rights Council, as General Assembly Considers Annual Report at 31st plenary meeting.
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While many Member States commended the work of the Human Rights Council as crucial in the promotion and protection of universal human rights, others expressed concern over its subjectivity, double standards and politicization, as the General Assembly took up the intergovernmental body’s report today.

Vojislav Šuc (Slovenia), President of the Human Rights Council, presented the body’s annual report and its addendum (documents A/73/53 and A/73/53/Add.1), noting that in its 12 years of existence, the Council has played a central role in addressing violations at the global level. Through technical assistance and cooperation, it has helped to build resilience and stability within societies. Over the past year, it adopted 87 resolutions, 53 of which were adopted without a vote.

In September, the Council decided to establish an independent mechanism to collect and analyse evidence of serious crimes committed against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, he said. The Council also extended the mandate of several inquiry commissions, including on Syria and Burundi. It considered the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights containing findings on the situation in Yemen, which concluded that Government officials had committed acts amounting to international crimes. In May, the Council held a special session on the deteriorating situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem and decided to dispatch a commission to investigate all violations there.

The seventieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights offers the opportunity “to review how much we have accomplished, where we stand and what should be our way forward”, he went on to say. Expressing concern over some States’ positions to not cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms or to cooperate with only a selected few, he called on States that have not yet done so to issue standing invitations to all the special procedures mandate holders. He also added that the universal periodic review enjoys strong legitimacy and is often cited as one of the Council’s greatest achievements.

Welcoming the participation of least developed countries and small island developing States in the work of the Council, he underscored that the active participation of civil society and national human rights institutions has also been essential to the Council’s work. “Regrettably, however, during this year, I have continued to receive allegations of intimidations, threats and reprisals against individuals who cooperate with the Human Rights Council,” he said, emphasizing the critical importance of ensuring that the Council remains a safe environment where civil society members can freely express their views.

General Assembly Vice‑President Melitón Alejandro Arrocha Ruíz (Panama), speaking on behalf of Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (Ecuador), emphasized that the Human Rights Council has a critical role through its various mechanisms, procedures and resolutions to develop international law and international human rights law. “Protecting human rights is essential if we wish to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” he said, adding that the Human Rights Council contributes to the Assembly’s efforts to eradicate poverty in all its forms and dimensions.

Delegations also commended the Council’s work, with the European Union’s representative emphasizing that the 12‑year‑old intergovernmental body is adjusting to new realities. The Council has recommitted to improving its efficiency, already having streamlined the process of adopting resolutions that allow for stronger stakeholder engagement and create more space for dialogue and reinforcing ownership.

Welcoming the active participation of civil society in the Council’s work, speakers also condemned the targeting of human rights defenders who engage with United Nations human rights mechanisms.

Georgia’s delegate called on Member States to take measures to prevent reprisals against human rights defenders. Expressing support for the strengthening of the Council’s delivery of technical assistance and capacity‑building support, she also noted that the universal periodic review is a unique human rights mechanism which enables States to better assess developments and make necessary adjustments to improve and advance human rights.

The representative of Costa Rica said that, despite not being a member of the Council, Costa Rica has cooperated with that body on several occasions, including on the human rights of protesters and human rights education. This is particularly crucial given the current global trend to demonize “the other”, migrants and refugees. In addition, greater coordination between all United Nations structures would have a direct impact on conflict prevention and the protection and promotion of human rights.

Liechtenstein’s representative stressed that upholding the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights is a binding political commitment made by the membership of the General Assembly. The longstanding concern over the situation in Myanmar has found its tragic expression in the Fact‑Finding Mission report, including patterns of serious human rights violations and abuses and other crimes perpetrated on a massive scale. Considering the pervasive culture of impunity at the domestic level, the report found that the impetus for accountability must come from the international community.

Myanmar’s representative voiced his rejection on the three resolutions on Myanmar in the Council’s report, calling them politically motivated, lacking objectivity and infringing on his country’s sovereignty. The Fact‑Finding Mission hinders Myanmar’s own efforts to find long‑term solutions to the situation in Rakhine State. His Government has already established an independent commission of enquiry to investigate alleged rights violations following terrorist attacks there.

Several other representatives, including the delegate of Belarus, also expressed alarm at the manner in which the Council was conducting its work. Underscoring that its proceedings remain excessively politicized and bogged down by initiatives that do not enjoy consensus, he said that certain procedures are biased and subjected to pressures from abroad. It is important to put an end to the consideration of country‑specific issues where there is no mandate from a relevant Human Rights Council resolution.

The Human Rights Council has unfairly targeted Syria, that country representative stressed. Rejecting double standards and “shameful subjectivity”, he underscored that the questions of human rights must be dealt with objectively. The “illegal Alliance” in Syria has destroyed cities and uses prohibited weapons against innocent civilians. “These crimes do not find their way into the reports of the Human Rights Council because of politicization, selectivity and double standards,” he continued, noting that his Government has “sent hundreds of letters” urging the Council to take note of particular situations.

Also speaking today were representatives of Mozambique (on behalf of African Group), Libya, Kuwait, Chile, Slovenia, Iran, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, India, El Salvador, Switzerland, Republic of Moldova, Norway, Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Mongolia, Australia, Eritrea, New Zealand and Bangladesh.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 7 November, to take up the report of the Economic and Social Council and the coordinated implementation of and follow‑up to the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences.

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