Millions of people across the world were without access to food, education and housing, with poverty the main obstacle to realizing their basic human rights, special mandate holders told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today.
In a series of presentations, six experts called for targeted approaches to address the unique needs of vulnerable populations, underscoring throughout the primary responsibility of Governments to protect the fundamental freedoms of all citizens.
Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Food, said addressing food insecurity in countries affected by conflict had become her priority. Some 70 million people in 45 countries required emergency food assistance, up 40 per cent from 2015, she said, also quoting a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) finding that 489 million undernourished people were living in conflict zones.
Deaths in those areas were typically caused by hunger and disease, not combat, she said. Yet, the international community had never called for an international criminal trial against Government officials or non State actors for creating, inflicting or prolonging famine. While parties to armed conflict must meet the needs of populations under their control, such basic State functions were being passed over to the international humanitarian system, she noted.
Koumbou Boly Barry, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, asserted that it was up to Governments to ensure the right to education was realized. With 263 million children and young people lacking access to schooling, education systems must adapt to meet the needs of all pupils. States must also recognize that particularly vulnerable populations, including displaced persons, required increased assistance. All students should view schools as safe environments fostering a sense of belonging, she said. Enshrining those principles into education systems would promote peace and stability.
In that context, Leilani Farha, Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, also stressed the need for targeted approaches to meet the needs of specific vulnerable groups. Her report focused on the enjoyment of the rights under her mandate by persons with disabilities, as they were commonly homeless, institutionalized and subjected to neglect, abuse and discrimination for no reason other than their disability. “Housing is absolutely central to dignity and equal rights for persons with disabilities,” she said, adding that the housing conditions of more than 1 billion persons with disabilities had made clear the need for States to realize the right to housing.
Alleviating poverty was at the heart of realizing basic human rights, said Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. The poor disproportionately experienced human rights violations. Addressing the needs of those living in poverty called for improved data collection from all relevant actors. There was little systematic data on the socioeconomic background of victims of civil and political rights violations, he said.
In the interactive segment of his presentation, he said his report focused on the need to separate the poor as a specific category, as they faced the overwhelming majority of violence, and were the leading victims of civil and political rights violations.
Also presenting before the Committee were Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, and Dainus Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 24 October, to continue its discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights.
The Third Committee met today to continue its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights. (For more information, please see Press Release GA/SHC/4205).
Interactive Dialogues Right to Food
HILAL ELVER, Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Food, said her fourth report contextualized food insecurity in countries affected by conflict by discussing human rights law, international humanitarian law, and international criminal law in order to raise awareness about States’ non compliance with existing norms. A follow up report, which would be presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2018, would address the humanitarian system’s response to food crises in disasters, she said, noting that 70 million people in 45 countries required emergency food assistance, up 40 per cent from 2015. The Rohingya people of Myanmar faced serious starvation and violations of their right to food.
A Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report titled “The 2017 State of Food Security and Nutrition” stated that 489 million undernourished people were living in conflict zones, she said, noting that deaths in those areas were usually caused by hunger and disease, not combat. The report warned that achieving a world without hunger and malnutrition by 2030 would not be reachable. “The human right to food is a fundamental right,” she said, with freedom from hunger accepted as part of customary international law. Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare was prohibited unconditionally in both international and non international armed conflicts. Parties to an armed conflict had a responsibility to meet the needs of the population under their control, but in many of today’s conflicts, the humanitarian system was asked to take over such basic State functions.
She said many legal doctrines supported indictments for genocide and crimes against humanity, but the international community had never called for an international criminal trial against Government officials or non State actors for creating, inflicting or prolonging famine. Protection of the right to food could not be achieved on a voluntary basis; international legal standards should reinforce the norm that deliberate action to cause starvation was a war crime or a crime against humanity which should be referred to the International Criminal Court. International attention must focus on eliminating the causes of famine, and not just at addressing the visible symptoms of the latest food emergency.
In the interactive dialogue, the representative of the European Union welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s focus on the right to food in emergency situations. Famine could only be prevented if people could move freely to obtain aid, he stressed, asking about measures to ensure that food assistance reached those in need in conflict situations.
The representative of Morocco said there was a worrying link between conflict and access to food. Referring to the Special Rapporteur’s call for a world conference to create a framework to combat famine, she asked about the feasibility of a new international binding treaty on the matter.
The representative of Norway agreed that national legislation should provide a framework to uphold international obligations to provide food access, especially in situations of famine and armed conflict.
The representative of Indonesia asked for information on the nexus between food security and armed conflict, and on the proposed creation of an exploratory group to pursue a legal framework on the matter.
The representative of Cuba said full realization of the right to food for all remained elusive. Cuba would submit a draft resolution on the right to food affirming that hunger was a violation of human dignity.
The representative of Syria urged the Special Rapporteur to fully comply with her mandate in a transparent and neutral fashion. He asked why she had disregarded constant efforts by Syria to address all food issues in the country. He was “puzzled” by the Special Rapporteur’s decision to leave the situations arising from the blockades on Palestine and Cuba out of her report.
The representative of Cameroon asked for information on the next steps to be taken towards an international legal instrument on the right to food.
The representative of Turkey said the most vulnerable populations were disproportionately affected by conflict, with food depravation used as a weapon of war in some conflict zones. Noting efforts to establish early warning mechanisms for famine in conflict, he asked what role the United Nations could perform in such a system.
The representative of Myanmar said her Government was committed to ensuring the food security of all people in Rakhine State. Noting that nobody could truly understand the situation in Myanmar like the Government, she expressed its commitment to finding a solution to the situation.
The representative of Saudi Arabia said it was regrettable that the Special Rapporteur’s report used newspapers as a source of information. The report falsely claimed Saudi Arabia had destroyed means of production in Yemen. She assured that all necessary assistance was being provided to the people of Yemen, and other countries around the world.
Ms. ELVER, responding, said it was politically complicated to address the right to food, underscoring her efforts at being objective. In conflict situations, sometimes one could not clearly determine the different players and underlying geopolitical conditions, yet people continued to suffer. She said she tried to use United Nations and related reports as information sources, adding that she did not use newspaper information or that from obscure non governmental organizations, and that she had cited all the reports she had used. She suggested that anyone saying the report was wrong should check the citations. She had not been able to access Syria, Yemen or Myanmar, she noted, and so had relied on international organizations.
What was needed was guidance that any player — including countries and terrorist organizations — could understand, she said, conveying the message that violating the right to food was a crime against humanity for which they would be individually responsible. When they blocked food supplies and destroyed agricultural areas, they should understand there would be accountability, she said. Noting that every conflict had powerful friends behind it, she suggested the Human Rights Council should organize a study group on the above topics. Early warning systems against famine were also important, she said, as famine did not just simply appear. The international community needed more systematic accountability: with conflicts happening everywhere, it would not be able to stop either famine or hunger. “Zero hunger in 2030, it’s almost impossible,” she said, adding that the major reasons were conflict related.
Right to Education
KOUMBOU BOLY BARRY, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, said much progress on ensuring access to education had been made, especially in Africa. Yet, 263 million children and young people around the world lacked access to schooling, most in sub Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. Vulnerable groups faced difficulties that called for greater assistance. While all pupils should have access to quality education, some required further assistance, she said, stressing that equitable education must focus on inclusion, especially for pupils with disabilities and older pupils who had been out of the education system for some time.
All pupils must feel safe and have a sense of belonging, she said, adding that supportive environments could directly combat discrimination. Those principles must be incorporated into school structures. Schools must adapt to the needs of all children, with teaching provided in second languages for people belonging to linguistic minorities, particularly migrants and refugees. Displaced populations required support systems not typically part of the standard education system, she said, adding that States must promote education that addressed the needs of those populations. The responsibility to implement the right to education was on Governments, she concluded.
The representative of Hungary expressed concern about the impacts on minorities of a recently adopted education law in Ukraine, saying that if implemented, the law would have a devastating effect on Hungarian language educational institutions in the Carpathians. The law contravened United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) conventions and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. He asked the Special Rapporteur how she would facilitate better compliance of States with their international commitments.
The representative of Norway said the right to education was a fundamental right, noting that his country supported equitable educational policies. Individuals with disabilities were at risk of being excluded and he asked about practical measures States could take to identify vulnerable groups.
The representative of Qatar said 213 students had been prevented from continuing their studies in countries which had boycotted Qatar. He asked about measures taken for refugees in terms of education.
The representative of Mexico underscored the need to address structural discrimination keeping people from enjoying their right to education. The report mentioned the importance of quality in education, and he asked the Special Rapporteur about strategies States had adopted to promote qualified teachers in rural areas, and further, best practices that considered the views of civil society.
The representative of the Russian Federation expressed concern about a discriminatory education law in Ukraine, which violated the rights of Russian speakers to receive schooling in their native language. He called on the Special Rapporteur to focus to the situation in Ukraine and the need for the Ukrainian authorities to observe international conventions, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Charter for Regional Languages, among others.
The representative of the European Union expressed concern about the Special Rapporteur’s assessment that millions more girls than boys of primary school age would not have the opportunity to learn to read or write. Also, he said States must provide refugees with education and asked about best practices for short term measures aimed at providing refugees with access to education.
The representative of South Africa asked for the Special Rapporteur’s views on the situation of child laborers.
A representative of UNESCO inquired about effective Government incentives to encourage stakeholders to ensure equitable education as a collective enterprise. She further asked how Governments could proactively ensure an enabling environment and support capacity building and competence, to ensure that every actor was accountable for learning outcomes.
The representative of Ukraine explained national legislation on education, saying that 735 schools provided education in minorities’ own languages. Children’s failure to pass exams in Ukrainian often led to their discrimination, preventing them from later becoming civil servants, or receiving higher education and medical treatment. Education in Ukrainian had been expanded so children could speak their own national language.
Also participating in the interactive discussion were representatives of Burkina Faso, Iraq, Morocco, Cuba, Indonesia and Maldives.
Ms. BARRY replied that the world had shown its commitment to promoting equitable and inclusive education. Referring to questions on how to ensure quality education, she pointed to research that found that the first year of education should be conducted in a child’s native language. To accomplish needed reforms, education systems must be decentralized, with decisions made at the community level, she said, noting that inclusion could promote peace and stability.
Training teachers in rural communities required visits to schools in those areas, she said, and engagement with rural communities. Innovative tools and new technologies could lead to excellent results in improving the quality of teaching in rural areas, she said, urging States to formally recognize the work of teachers in those communities.
Turning to questions related to the needs of refugees, girls and other particularly vulnerable groups, she again called for decentralization, with grassroots led efforts taking priority in decision making. When relevant stakeholders took charge of participatory education reforms, greater success was possible, she stressed. Still, Governments must provide the necessary resources to address the needs of vulnerable groups.
PHILIP ALSTON, Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, said his report sought to demonstrate four things: that the poor experienced violations disproportionately and differently from others, and that their civil and political rights were neglected by mainstream human rights and development actors. Thirdly, the resulting situation undermined the principle of the indivisibility of human rights, and finally, human rights and development communities must ensure respect for all human rights of those living in poverty. Attention focused on material deprivation and a lack of resources, while solutions sought to increase disposable income, rather than restore the basic rights of poor people. He identified some assumptions explaining the situation, including by the development and human rights communities, which each assumed that the other would address challenges relating to the enjoyment of civil and political rights by those living in poverty.
Moreover, both social sciences and human rights fact finding tended to disaggregate civil and political rights violations by age, gender, race and ethnicity, but not according to economic class, he observed. The civil and political rights of those living in poverty were denied or restricted by, for example, restricting the access of the poor to public places by criminalizing homelessness. His report had found, among other things, that there was little systematic data on the socioeconomic background of victims of civil and political rights violations. Several recommendations followed from his diagnosis of the challenge, he said, including a call to adapt and adjust solutions so that the factors rendering the poor particularly vulnerable were taken into account.
The representative of China said poverty reduction was the hallmark of his Government and urged the Special Rapporteur to conduct his mandate with respect and objectivity. He requested recommendations for eliminating poverty in developing countries.
The representative of Iraq asked if the Special Rapporteur had taken into account terrorist activity and conflict as causes of extreme poverty, and if so, what measures had been taken to address that issue.
The representative of the European Union said extreme poverty kept individuals from accessing civil and political rights. With the Special Rapporteur calling for new approaches to ensure those rights, he asked how indicators could be modified to better account for civil and political rights violations.
The representative of Cuba agreed that if civil and political rights were protected, respect for social and economic rights would follow automatically. He emphasized that human rights would be protected through deep consideration of the causes of poverty.
The representative of the United States acknowledged poverty was a multi dimensional concern that called for addressing education and gender gaps across the world. She asked how Member States could enhance access to rights by women and girls in the lowest income brackets.
Also speaking was the representative of Morocco.
Mr. ALSTON, responding, expressed agreement with China’s delegate that lifting 700 million people from poverty was an extraordinary achievement. In China, rural areas were no longer the main concern, but there was significant poverty in urban areas, especially among the 200 million migrant workers. Regarding compliance with the code of conduct, he said it was not his understanding that Special Rapporteurs were prevented from meeting with anyone without the Government approval, or that they should be followed everywhere, or that individuals should be prevented from meeting with the Special Rapporteur. He expressed concern over events that had unfolded after his visit including Jiang Tianyong, a human rights lawyer. The relationship between terrorism and poverty could be examined from a number of angles, he added, noting that exclusion could fuel terrorism.
He expressed deep concern about rising inequality, noting that when capital and income were held overwhelmingly by the few, civil and political rights would be subverted in the interests of the “supremely powerful”. Even the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had expressed concern, he said, from the perspective of economic growth. As for indicators that could enable better understanding of the civil and political rights violations suffered by the poor, his report focused on the need to separate the poor as a specific category, as the overwhelming majority of violence was directed at them, and they were the leading victims of civil and political rights violations. Current trends toward privatization and reducing the role of the State invariably had moved the burden of care to women, he said, adding that neoliberal economic policies were premised on failing to address the specific needs of women and girls.
The representative of China, noting the Special Rapporteur’s reference to problems surrounding China’s hukou system of household registration, said reforms to that system meant migrant workers could have equal access to employment and other rights regardless of where they lived. Secondly, to the Special Rapporteur’s comments about individuals who had violated Chinese law, he said that the individual’s sentencing had nothing to do with the Special Rapporteur, who should not associate everything he witnessed with himself. Reminding Mr. ALSTON he must abide by the Code of Conduct and the Charter of the United Nations, and respect the territorial integrity of a Member State, he recalled that his mandate was focused on reducing poverty, rather than the civil and political rights of citizens. That was the purview of other Special Rapporteurs.
The representative of Iraq again noted that his country respected minorities, noting that the Constitution provided equal rights for minorities represented in Parliament. Terrorism had come in from different countries. Those were not Iraqi elements, they were from abroad.
Mr. ALSTON, responding again to Iraq’s delegate, said he accepted the activities of foreign terror groups in the territory of a country had major implications on that country’s ability to address poverty and respect for human rights. In response China’s delegate, he said he was pleased to hear of reforms to the hukou system, adding that while there was still a way to go, China had been assiduous in focusing on problems once they were identified. He said he understood why there was a Special Rapporteur on poverty, if that person would talk about civil and political rights. The point was that those living in poverty actually had a different experience. It would be unproductive for the Special Rapporteur on poverty to say he was unconcerned with civil and political rights, or with other rights, as an integrated approach was needed.
Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation
LÉO HELLER, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, presented her second report which assessed how funding by France, Japan, the European Union, the World Bank and the Inter American Development Bank and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had helped to realize the human right to water and sanitation. She examined how funders had incorporated those rights into the four stages of the human rights development cycle, namely: the funders’ policy framework; operational tools; project selection, design and implementation; and project assessment and monitoring.
She observed that while the policies of some funders had incorporated that cycle, others had only done so sporadically. There were also significant gaps in the cycle’s application during project implementation, even when it had been adequately incorporated. The report also found that funders used a variety of operational tools which had varying degrees of relevance to the human rights to water and sanitation. As such, she recommended that funders develop and systematically produce thorough assessment and monitoring, based on the human rights development cycle, both during and after project implementation. They should improve project assessment protocols by adjusting their scope, data collection methods and indicators. Funders should monitor long term project outcomes, with indicators based on the human rights development cycle, as well as assess all stages of their activities during the cycle.
In the interactive dialogue, the representative of Brazil asked how the Third Committee could contribute to the discussion on the rights to safe drinking water and sanitation.
The representative of the European Union asked what could be done to ensure that safe drinking water and sanitation projects were sustainable.
The representative of Germany asked why there had been gaps in applying the human rights framework to projects, and about best practices to ensure its application.
The representative of South Africa asked how the private sector could play a bigger role in ensuring the rights to safe drinking water and sanitation.
The representative of Switzerland inquired about roles the private sector and civil society could play in ensuring safe access, and about viable financing for water and sanitation services.
The representative of Maldives asked how sustainable, affordable services could be established in small island states.
The representative of France asked how access to safe, affordable drinking water and sanitation could foster sustainable development.
Representatives of Spain, Iraq, Norway and Morocco also spoke.
Mr. HELLER, responding, said two main issues had emerged from the discussion: one was the importance of development cooperation for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and another was that in his research, he had identified several gaps which were not specific to the six cases. Some funders had good policies in place, yet gaps persisted. Other funders had no specific policy for water and sanitation. Instead, those issues had been subsumed into other areas, such as food or health, which had no explicit human rights commitment.
Discussion about the Third Committee’s role was also pivotal, he acknowledged, as the gap between the Goals and human rights must be bridged. To questions about why gaps persisted in the application of the human rights development cycle, he said one explanation was that most funders had other priorities. Regarding queries about human rights conditionality, he said the international community must align development cooperation with the human rights framework (human rights development cycle), notably by involving local authorities and civil society.
LEILANI FARHA, Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing as a Component on the Right to an Adequate Standard of Living and on the Right to Non Discrimination in this context, said her report focused on the enjoyment of that right by persons with disabilities, as they were commonly homeless, institutionalized and subjected to neglect, abuse and discrimination for no reason other than their disability. “Housing is absolutely central to dignity and equal rights for persons with disabilities,” she said. There was a need to merge the disability human rights paradigm, developed under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with jurisprudence and commentary on the right to housing under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Stressing that dignity, autonomy and freedom to choose were critical dimensions of the right to housing, she said the lack of choice of where and with whom to live was experienced by persons with disabilities as an assault on their dignity and autonomy. The Convention highlighted the right to non discrimination and equality, and recognized accessibility as wide ranging and expansive. It also recognized the right to participate as integral to implementation of the right to housing for persons with disabilities. Indeed, housing conditions for many of the 1 billion persons with disabilities made clear that States must realize the right to housing for persons with disabilities. They must ensure that those persons lived free from institutionalization and urgently address the issue of homelessness. States should also support organizations for persons with disabilities so they could participate in all areas of housing policy, as well as guarantee access to justice and accountability mechanisms for claims to adequate housing by persons with disabilities.
In the interactive dialogue, the representative of Brazil highlighted the need for a change in culture to create policies that met the needs of persons with disabilities.
The representative of Iraq asked for new ideas to ensure that houses were built to suit the climate.
The representative of South Africa asked about corporate sector’s role in providing adequate housing.
The representative of the European Union asked how a focus on human rights could ensure access to housing for persons with disabilities.
The representative of Palestine asked the Special Rapporteur to what could be done to prevent Israel from demolishing Palestinian homes.
The representative of the Maldives also spoke.
Ms. FARHA, responding, agreed with Brazil’s representative on the need for cultural change to ensure the right to adequate housing for persons with disabilities, underscoring that it was necessary for the international community to move forward. On whether housing should match a certain climate or place, she said the right to adequate housing was intended to meet the needs of people wherever they were, no matter the climate. Housing in post natural disaster or post conflict situations was a concern, as conflict had an incredibly detrimental impact on people with disabilities. Human rights law applied to States and all levels of Government, she said; the onus was on States to work with the private and corporate sector to ensure they were respecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
On the issue of data collection, she suggested that the Washington Group on Disability Statistics collect that information. Regarding the benefits of a human rights approach to housing for persons with disabilities, she said the Sustainable Development Goals required the eradication of homelessness by 2030. A disproportionate number of people with psychosocial disabilities were homeless. The New Urban Agenda required States to develop housing strategies that were rooted in human rights, she said, noting that international human rights law was clear that States were accountable to the people, and that a human rights approach offered measurable timelines and goals. To the question by the representative of the State of Palestine, she said it was clear in all her work how she felt about house demolitions, whether they occurred in Palestine or any other State.
Enjoyment of the Highest Physical, Mental Health
DAINIUS PŪRAS, Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health, said his report examined the effects of corruption on the right to health, which was among the most corrupt sectors, given its vulnerability to power asymmetries, uncertainty in selecting, measuring and delivering services, and complexity of systems. Corruption undermined the State’s obligation to realize the right to health “to the maximum of its resources”. Thus, strengthening health care systems so that all segments of the population trusted primary services would be an effective anti corruption measure, as it would mitigate the tendency for patients to bypass primary care and use specialized services.
He said the report also considered the mental health sector, which was particularly affected by corrupt practices and use of biased evidence. Mental health policies and services illustrated how a lack of transparency and accountability in the relationships between the pharmaceutical industry and health sector, including academic medicine, could lead to institutional corruption. He recommended that States implement the United Nations Convention against Corruption, and ensure that anti corruption laws integrated the right to health as a standard. Sufficient checks and balances should also be put in place when health sectors were decentralized or handed over to the private sector. States should also raise awareness among providers against unethical practices, and press relevant stakeholders to address, through legal and policy measures, corrupt practices taking place in all stages of the pharmaceutical value chain.
In the interactive dialogue, the representative of Lithuania asked what measures could be taken by States to ensure that mental health policies were driven by a human rights based, non biased approach.
The representative of Cuba asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate how corruption could take place in the private health care sector.
The representative of the European Union inquired about best practices for involving stakeholders in decision making on health care issues.
The representative of Indonesia asked how an international cooperation could combat corruption in health care systems.
The representative of the Maldives suggested the Special Rapporteur publish a report on the health care challenges of geographically dispersed countries.
The representative of South Africa also spoke.
Mr. PŪRAS, responding, recommended applying an analytic framework developed by his predecessors. Simplified approaches had failed, he said, because social and underlying determinants had been ignored. The global understanding now worked to better address social and other determinants of mental health, and to provide treatments such as psychosocial support; it was clear that biomedical interventions had been overused. The Human Rights Council had passed a resolution last year on mental health which emphasized over medicalization and over institutionalization as ineffective investments which might be harmful. The justiciability of the right to health was an important issue, as was the role of primary care in preventing corruption.
People in many parts of the world liked specialists more than primary care health workers, he observed, adding that what people needed was good primary care, which saved resources and brought transparency to health care. People in villages and in local communities contributed a lot to the effective provision of health care services. To a question on good practices, he extended his gratitude to countries which had accepted his mandate’s visit, noting that in Armenia and Indonesia, the commitment by health care professionals towards developing effective policies was evident. On international cooperation, he said one important element was international assistance, noting that rich countries could help developing countries formulate community based mental health care. Around the world, many people had mild or common mental health issues, and there were simple, inexpensive solutions, such as community nurses providing psychosocial support. The public and private sectors should cooperate, but the private sector should be supervised and controlled to avoid corruption.
Source: United Nations