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Human Rights Issues Dominate the Agenda

Article excerpt

Human rights questions again dominated the agenda of the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), as it had in past sessions, with nearly one third of its 50 meetings devoted to these issues. Acting on the Committee's 12 reports, the General Assembly adopted 78 resolutions and decisions, 30 of which addressed a broad range of human rights issues. Other resolutions focused on social development, the advancement of women, promoting and protecting the rights of children, international drug control, crime prevention and criminal justice, the elimination of racism, as well as racial and religious discrimination, the support of refugees, indigenous peoples, the rights of peoples to self-determination and the condemnation of the use of mercenaries and terrorism.

One of the highlights of the Committee's session was the first address by the newly appointed United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, who said it would be farsighted for the international community to offer the same level of protection to individuals in economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, as it afforded them in the political and civil sectors.

The emphasis on human rights issues took an added significance, as the Committee continually stressed the importance of the forthcoming commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the first five-year review of the Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted in Vienna in 1993 at the World Conference on Human Rights. The related activities were to take place within the context of the Human Rights Year (1998), launched on 10 December 1997. The Assembly urged all Governments to contribute to implementing the Plan of Action for the Decade for Human Rights Education, 1995-2004, by establishing broadly representative national committees for human rights education. The Assembly decided to proclaim 26 June as International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. It also adopted a decision on arrangements for awarding human rights prizes during 1998.

A series of debated human rights issues resulted in resolutions that were the subject of recorded votes. The implementation of the Declaration on the Right to Development especially received a great deal of attention in the Committee's debate, and the Assembly, adopting a resolution by a vote of 129 to 12, with 32 abstentions, reaffirmed the importance of the right to development as an integral part of fundamental human rights. Developing countries, by and large, called for respect for cultural and religious diversity around the world, respect for sovereignty and an end to the politicization of human rights issues. In contrast, several developed countries called for common standards of human rights and stressed that economic and social rights did not come before individual liberties.

Some controversial resolutions adopted by recorded vote dealt with unilateral coercive measures, noninterference in the States' electoral processes, condemnation of terrorism, use of mercenaries, freedom of travel and family reunification, strengthening United Nations action in the field of human rights, strengthening the role of the United Nations in promoting periodic and genuine elections, and the implementation of human rights instruments concerning coordination between human rights bodies.

By the terms of the text on Kosovo, the Assembly expressed deep concern about all human rights violations there, in particular, the repression of the ethnic Albanian population, and called on the authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to take all necessary measures to end immediately all human rights violations against ethnic Albanians. On the human rights situation in the Sudan, the Assembly expressed deep concern at the serious, widespread and continuing human rights violations in that country and outrage at the use by all parties to the conflict of military force to disrupt or attack relief efforts. …