12 November 2003


Draft Resolutions Introduced on Office of UN High
Commissioner for Refugees, Mercenaries

NEW YORK, 11 November (UN Headquarters) -- The Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, today called on governments to fulfil their legal obligation to respect, fulfil and protect the right to food, as the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its consideration of alternative approaches to the promotion of human rights.  The Committee was also briefed by the Special Rapporteurs on torture and freedom of religion, and by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons. 

The right to food was a human right protected by international law, said Mr. Ziegler, stressing that total priority had to be given to the obligation of States to feed their people.  He said little progress had been made by governments despite promises made at the Second World Food Summit in 2002 to halve the number of victims of hunger by 2015.  Stating that approximately 100,000 persons were dying from hunger or its related causes every day, he said it was an outrage that such hunger persisted in a world where more than enough food was being produced to feed the world’s people. 

Moreover, he continued, transnational corporations needed to be held accountable for respecting human rights obligations related to the right to food, since transnational corporations sometimes held more power than States.  Governments must ensure that corporations did not violate human rights, particularly the right to food.  His report outlined a legal framework that sought to hold corporations accountable for respecting human rights obligations. 

Some representatives raised concerns about the Special Rapporteur’s assertions that transnational corporations should be held accountable for respecting human rights obligations related to the right to food.  Some questioned whether such an approach would divert attention from the responsibility of States in protecting human rights.  Others questioned to what extent such corporations could be held to international human rights standards. 

The Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion or belief, Abdelfattah Amor, presented his report on the elimination of all forms of religious intolerance, highlighting education as the best way to overcome misunderstandings related to religious differences.  He said religious intolerance was growing at alarming rate and that the international community had not done enough to implement education initiatives to combat religion-based intolerance and discrimination. 

Several representatives expressed concerns about the violation of the right to freedom of religion as it related to anti-terrorism measures and the need to distinguish between acts of terrorism and the mistreatment of minorities.

Mr. Amor stressed the need for States to refrain from excessive reactions when combating terrorism, noting that the fight against terrorism had often led to the violation of human rights. 

The Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Theo van Boven, presented his report, saying he was deeply troubled about the erosion of consensus within the international community that torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading forms of treatment or punishment were absolutely forbidden as a norm of international law.  In recent times, this consensus had been compromised by considerations and policies of expediency and presumed higher interests.  Many such policies and practices, he noted, were related to counter-terrorism measures. 

Presenting a report on internally displaced persons, Francis Deng, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons, said that while there had been considerable progress in the international community’s response to the global crisis of internal displacement, there were still too many internally displaced persons (IDPs) around the world who lacked adequate food, shelter and other basic necessities and were still no closer to return or resettlement.  There remained serious problems of coordination among international institutional mechanisms that left the pressing needs of many IDPs unmet.  Serious questions remained to be answered about how to assign responsibilities and how to ensure appropriate accountability mechanisms.  He urged immediate, effective and efficient action by the international community to address these shortcomings. 

Also today the Committee heard introductions of draft resolutions on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  The representative of Denmark, on behalf of the Nordic countries, introduced a draft resolution on the UNHCR that reaffirmed the support of the General Assembly for the Office’s work.  The representative of Denmark also took the floor to introduce a draft resolution on the implementation of actions proposed by the UNHCR to strengthen the capacity of the Office to carry out its mandate.  A draft resolution on the enlargement of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the UNHCR was introduced by the representative of Egypt. 

The representative of Cuba introduced a draft resolution on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination. 

The Committee will reconvene tomorrow, Wednesday 12 November, at 10 a.m., to continue its consideration of alternative approaches to the promotion of human rights, as well as reports of special rapporteurs and representatives on Myanmar, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and on the right to the enjoyment of health. 



The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) will continue its consideration of human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights, human rights situations and reports of special rapporteurs and representatives, as well as the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  For additional background, see Press release GA/SHC/3762 of 10 November.

Before the Third Committee is an interim report by the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on the elimination of all forms of religious intolerance (document A/58/296).  The report summarizes the Special Rapporteur’s communications with States and their responses to inquiries on questions of inter-religious violence, the legal and practical limitations on the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion, anti-terrorist measures taken against certain religious communities, the role of the press, conscientious objection and protection of religious sites. 

The report finds that the events of 11 September 2001 have had a profound impact on the exercise of human rights, and especially on the right to freedom of religion or belief.  The Special Rapporteur has noted that in some cases the events of 11 September 2001 have been used to legitimize and to strengthen pre-existing policies for the persecution of religious groups.  The report concludes that many States have taken the simplistic view that, since religions are at the root of many terrorist acts, the most direct means of preventing such acts is to limit the existence of religion.  In these cases counter-terrorist activities have focused on limiting the exercise of civil and political rights, including the right to freedom of religion or belief.

In many cases, rather than protecting the right to freedom of religion or belief, States have used the pretext of security in response to terrorist threats to limit the exercise of that right.  The Special Rapporteur has observed a new upsurge in administrative regulations on freedom of religion and notes that many States have used the compulsory registration of religious groups and the imposition of regulations governing them to restrict the exercise of freedom of religion or belief, often in violation of international standards.

The Special Rapporteur calls on States to respect their fundamental obligations in the area of civil and political rights and to focus on the promotion of such rights.  Highlighting education as an essential tool for teaching a culture of tolerance and non-discrimination, the Special Rapporteur urges action in the area of education and culture as a prerequisite for any effort to combat the root causes of extremism and intolerance.

Also, before the Third Committee is the fifth report of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the question of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in accordance with Assembly resolution 57/200 of 18 December 2002 (document A/58/120).

The Special Rapporteur reports that he visited the Republic of Uzbekistan from 24 November to 6 December 2002, during which he met various senior officials and representatives of civil society organizations, as well as alleged torture victims and their relatives.  He has recommended the adoption of measures to put an end to torture in Uzbekistan.

The Special Rapporteur reports that he met with representatives from Bolivia, China, Georgia, Nepal and Spain with a view to exploring the possibility of undertaking fact-finding visits to these countries.

The report notes the Special Rapporteur has strengthened his cooperation with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States.  With a view to strengthening collaboration within the United Nations system on the issue of torture, the Special Rapporteur met again with members of the Committee against Torture and with the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.

Before the Committee, there is the report of Francis Deng, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons (document A/58/393).  The report reflects upon the achievements of the past 10 years and the challenges that still lie ahead and reviews the progress made in the four areas of work of the Special Representative -- the “four pillars” -- which include the normative framework; promoting effective institutional arrangements; dialogue with Governments through country missions; and the undertaking of research into new and emerging areas.  Finally, it outlines some of the challenges ahead.

The report states that significant progress has been made in the areas of norm-setting, institutional arrangements, and operational responses to the needs of internally displaced persons.  A great deal has been achieved regarding the normative aspect of the work of the mandate through the development of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.  The Principles are now a widely accepted standard and a useful tool for addressing the protection and assistance needs of internally displaced persons.  In addition, the Special Representative’s country missions have succeeded in establishing a pattern of constructive dialogue with Governments and other pertinent actors on behalf of the internally displaced.

Despite those achievements, the Special Representative concludes that there still remains a significant gap between the postulated standards, institutional structures and operational performance, on the one hand, and the still compelling needs of the displaced populations for protection and assistance, on the other hand.  The challenge for the future may be a more precise assessment of the degree to which the international community has in fact succeeded or failed to respond to the global crisis of internal displacement; the gaps that exist in meeting the protection and assistance needs of the internally displaced; and what needs to be done to bridge that gap.  The report states that there is need for a more thorough appraisal of the system and its operations to determine the extent to which it can be made to be more effective in providing a comprehensive system of protection and assistance to the internally displaced persons of the world.

Before the Committee is a report of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the right to food (document a/58/330).  The report reiterates the importance of the right to food as a human right, a right that must be realized if hunger is to be eradicated around the world.  The Special Rapporteur notes that despite promises made by Governments at the World Food Summit, little progress is being made in reducing hunger.  According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the number of undernourished people around the world increased from 815 million in 2001 to 840 million in 2002.


The Special Rapporteur addresses pressing issues related to the right to food, including how gender relations can negatively impact women’s right to food and the unprecedented control of transnational corporations over the food system.  The report outlines the legal framework that seeks to hold corporations to respect for human rights, particularly with the right to food.  It also describes positive developments in Brazil and Sierra Leone, which have made progress in promoting the right to food.

The Special Rapporteur urges Governments to respect, protect and fulfil the right to food in accordance with their human rights obligations.  Much work remains to be done in improving the legal protection of the right to food, particularly for women.  The report also urges governments to regulate transnational corporations and to develop binding legal norms that hold corporations to human rights standards and circumscribe potential abuses of their position of power over the global food system.

There is also the report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Paul Hunt (A/58/427). The report reflects on the activities of, and issues of particular interest to, the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.  Section II states that health indicators can help States recognize when policy adjustments may be required. The Special Rapporteur argues that some right to health indicators may help a State monitor the progressive realization of the right to health in its jurisdiction, while others may help to monitor the exercise of international responsibilities that extend beyond a State’s borders and impact on health in other jurisdictions.

As requested by the Commission on Human Rights, section III provides an introductory overview of some of the conceptual and other issues arising from the right to health.  Section IV expressed the concern of the Special Rapporteur about the continuing obstacles to ensuring access to prevention and treatment for HIV/AIDS.  He suggests that one of the most distinctive contributions that human rights bring to the struggle against the HIV/AIDS pandemic is enhanced accountability. Section V briefly highlights the need to address the implications of neglected diseases on the right to health and suggests that it might be timely to devise a right to health approach to the elimination of leprosy.  Finally, as requested by the Commission, the Special Rapporteur comments on the proposal for an optional protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.


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