Third Committee: Social, Humanitarian and Cultural; Human Rights Dominate the Development Agenda

Article excerpt

In a year that has seen a renewed commitment to social development and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the Third Committee's work on social, cultural and humanitarian issues has been of particular importance. Committee Chairman Francis K. Butagira of Uganda told the UN Chronicle that the 2005 World Summit was an important catalyst. It dealt with such issues as human rights, women in general, gender issues, disabilities and refugees--"all these have a direct bearing on the concept of the development agenda, as emphasized by the Summit", he said.

The Committee met 48 times, from early October to late November 2005, and addressed 14 agenda items encompassing issues ranging from international drug control to indigenous rights. Interactive debate on many issues was complemented by reports presented by heads of those UN offices, funds and agencies, whose work directly relates to the Third Committee's agenda, and by special rapporteurs and representatives, who were invited to report on a specific area of investigation. The Committee recommended to the Assembly 59 resolutions, of which 40 were adopted unanimously.

A significant resolution on reparation for victims of human rights abuses was adopted by consensus and praised as representing genuine progress. Titled "Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law", it was the culmination of more than 15 years of work by Member States, experts, the International Committee of the Red Cross and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). These principles and guidelines provide a valuable tool to identify mechanisms and procedures for the effective implementation of existing legal obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law. Although not legally binding and creating no new legal obligations, these guidelines provide victims and their representatives, including States, with a useful framework in designing and implementing public policies on reparations.

The General Assembly recommended that Member States take into account the principles and guidelines, promoting respect thereof and bringing them to the attention of the executive bodies of government. It also requested that steps be taken to ensure their widest possible dissemination in all United Nations official languages. The resolution's adoption constitutes "a milestone in the fight against impunity by stressing the principle of accountability for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law", the representative of Chile said, and reflects the international community's concern and solidarity with the victims of human rights abuses. Uruguay also welcomed the text, stressing that reparation, justice and truth were important in restoring social peace and strengthening the rule of law of institutions.

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The "Establishment of a United Nations human rights training and documentation centre for south-west Asia and the Arab region" also received strong multilateral support. The Commission on Human Rights had previously welcomed the offer in April 2005 by the Government of Qatar to host the centre, in Doha, which aims to support the development of national human rights capacities and infrastructure through regional cooperation. Under the resolution, approved by consensus, the General Assembly noted the continuing cooperation and assistance of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to further strengthen existing regional arrangements to promote and protect human rights, particularly through technical cooperation aimed at capacity-building, public information and education. Under the OHCHR supervision, the centre is mandated to undertake training and documentation activities according to international standards and support regional efforts of Governments, UN agencies and programmes, national human rights institutions and NGOs. …