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Human Rights Council holds biennial panel on the right to development and interactive dialogue on mercenaries

Begins Interactive Dialogue with Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development

The Human Rights Council this morning held its biennial panel on the right to development, with a focus on strengthening international cooperation and solidarity in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.  It also held an interactive dialogue with the Working Group on the use of mercenaries, and started an interactive dialogue with the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development.

Speaking in the panel discussion on the right to development were the United Arab Emirates, Burkina Faso, Maldives, European Union, Viet Nam, Qatar, India, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Mauritania, Morocco, Cuba, Togo, China, Bahamas, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Viet Nam, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Cabo Verde, Ethiopia, Russian Federation and Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations : iuventum e.V.  (video message), International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations, Sikh Human Rights Group, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme, Chinese Association for International Understanding, and International Human Rights Association of American Minorities.

The Council also held an interactive dialogue with the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the right of peoples to self-determination.

Speaking on the use of mercenaries were the European Union, Cuba, China, India, Iran, Venezuela, Russian Federation, Syria, Egypt and Chad.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations : Friends World Committee for Consultation, International Institute for Rights and Development Geneva, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain Inc, International Council Supporting Fair Trial and Human Rights, Alsalam Foundation, China Society for Human Rights Studies, and Next Century Foundation.

The Council then began an interactive dialogue with the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here.  All meeting summaries can be found here.  Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-fifth regular session can be found here.

At 3 p.m., the Council will conclude its interactive dialogue with the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development.  It will then hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence.

Biennial Panel on the Right to Development : Strengthening International Cooperation and Solidarity in the Fight against the COVID-19 Pandemic

Keynote Presentations

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said people in vulnerable situations, whose voices were systematically silenced and whose interests were rarely served, tended to suffer the worst from the health and socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19.  Coupled with the climate emergency, the pandemic was the gravest global threat in generations.  COVID-19 had, indeed, shaken the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda “to its very core”.  As the Secretary-General had emphasized, fighting the pandemic required “heightened solidarity” with the world’s people, especially the most vulnerable.  It demanded renewed multilateralism, political will and strong leadership at all levels.  And it called for bold policies, and financial and technical support to countries and communities in need, including through urgent debt relief.  Recovering from COVID-19 was a chance to reverse longstanding cycles of poverty and inequality.

ABDULLA SHAHID, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Maldives, speaking via video message, said this was the time to rethink development models, and ensure that meeting the needs of the most vulnerable was the common yardstick used to measure success in building back better.  In planning for post-pandemic recovery in the new normal, it was vital to work together to embark on a global effort to develop new and innovative ways to meet the challenges of debt relief, promote investment, and unleash the creative potential of all economies.  Like the Japanese practice Kintsugi, which was a golden journey that rebuilt something more beautiful than what was lost, let all also come out of this pandemic much stronger.  Let this pandemic be a reminder of human vulnerability.  Let this also be the moment that all came together to rebuild their common future, confident in the knowledge that the human spirit would always triumph in adversity. 

TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, Director-General of the World Health Organization, speaking via video message, said the COVID-19 pandemic had disproportionately affected vulnerable population groups, such as racial and ethnic minorities, older people and low-income families.  It had also had profound social and economic impacts, including on unemployment, gender-based violence, and gender inequalities.  Stay-at-home orders and other restrictions had also affected access to essential health services and exacerbated pre-existing inequalities and social exclusion for already marginalized communities.  COVID-19 was a powerful demonstration that health was not only an outcome of development ; it was a prerequisite, and the foundation of social, economic and political stability.  Health was not a luxury item for those who could afford it ; it was a human right.   Through access to the COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, the World Health Organization was working with partners around the globe to ensure equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics for COVID-19. 

Presentations by Panellists

VAQIF SADIQOV, Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said the COVID-19 pandemic situation had shown the importance of international cooperation to mitigate the results of this health calamity.  The global pandemic had had a strong negative impact on all countries around the world, especially developing countries, creating further difficulties for the realization of the right to development.  The Non-Aligned Movement expressed its concern about the global threat posed by COVID-19 and underscored that the control of the pandemic relied on proper preparedness, prevention, resilience-building, and greater national, regional and international collaboration and actions to address this challenge in an effective and timely manner.  Equitable access, fair distribution and affordability of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for COVID-19 were important priorities for developing countries and least developed countries. 

ISABELLE DURANT, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, said COVID-19 had unleashed a "perfect economic storm" with simultaneous and mutually reinforcing shocks in supply, demand and finance.  As a result, the global economy was expected to contract by 4 to 5 per cent in 2020.  The pandemic was plunging between 70 and 100 million people into extreme poverty.  International cooperation and solidarity was needed to help developing countries finance their responses to COVID-19.  The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development estimated that developing countries would suffer from a funding gap of between 2 and 3 trillion dollars over the next two years.  Given the likely decline in official development assistance, foreign direct investment and remittances from migrant workers and the diaspora, the funding gap was abysmal.

CARLOS CORREA, Executive Director of the South Centre, said the health and economic crisis created by COVID-19 had aggravated and revealed extremely disturbing trends for the realization of the right to development.  First, actions aimed at weakening the World Health Organization.  Second, a return to isolationist policies such as the so-called ‘vaccine nationalism’ that ignored the need for a global solution to the pandemic based on cooperation and solidarity.  Third, the persistence of unilateral coercive actions manifestly contrary to international law and ethically unacceptable, particularly at a time of greater desolation and suffering of the populations of the affected countries.  Fourth, the continuous pressure from governments that, in support of large transnational pharmaceutical companies, sought monopolies over drug and vaccine technologies under patents and other intellectual property tools.

MARIA MERCEDES ROSSI, Main representative of the Associazione Comunità Papa Giovanni XXIII to the United Nations Office at Geneva, urged those present to rethink the current economic and political paradigms and forge new economic models that were sustainable, people-centred and inclusive.  Urgent action was needed now, including debt cancellation, ending unilateral coercive measures and countering tax havens and corruption.  Likewise, it was necessary to respect the commitments of the Paris agreement, carrying out meaningful reforms in global governance and reducing military expenditures with the redirection of the released resources towards social protection, health system strengthening and the Sustainable Development Goals.  Moreover, States should deliver on their commitments to release 0.7 per cent of their gross national income for official development assistance and even increase this amount because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Discussion

Speakers said social and cultural rights should not be overlooked during the COVID-19 crisis.  The silence pandemic - climate change - and the related heightened risks of natural catastrophes compounded the negative economic and social consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic for small island and developing countries.  Some speakers requested a broadening of partnerships with developing countries so they may foster the flow of development aid, market access, digital cooperation, and restructuring of technical assistance, in addition to the fair and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.  The right to development should include social, economic and political components.  Developing countries faced obstacles to the right to development that predated the pandemic and stemmed from the international order imposed by hegemonic powers.  A top down approach alone could not achieve ‘Leaving no one behind!’.  Open-source sharing of information and supply could save more lives.  Structural adjustment programmes and austerity measures had become a serious obstacle to the right to development and must be halted.  Noting that the United Nations system was big on rhetoric on civil society but somewhat restricted with regard to active engagement with it, speakers urged the Working Group on the right to development to implement an open door policy with civil society.

Concluding Remarks

VAQIF SADIQOV, Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said the concept of the right to development was self-explanatory, and international cooperation should be placed at the heart of its implementation strategy.

ISABELLE DURANT, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, said actors of international development and actors of the right to development could meet more often.  The digital sector would be key to development in the medium term, and the inequalities in this sphere must be addressed.

CARLOS CORREA, Executive Director of the South Centre, said regarding access to vaccines and medicines, speeches were not sufficient ; concerted actions were needed to ensure people in developing countries could access such supplies on an equal footing.

MARIA MERCEDES ROSSI, Main Representative of the Associazione Comunità Papa Giovanni XXIII to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development outlined a comprehensive definition of this right, encompassing political, social, economic and cultural rights.  If a binding instrument were to be approved now, however, this definition could be complemented by incorporating the concept of sustainability.

Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries

Presentation of the Report

CHRIS KWAJA, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the right of peoples to self-determination, said the report highlighted the dramatic impacts on the protection of the human rights of all migrants caused by the increased and wide-ranging use of private military and security services to support State policies on immigration and border management.  In many cases, companies were directly responsible for human rights abuses of migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, notably in situations of deprivation of liberty.  In other cases, they were complicit in human rights violations and abuse caused by other actors, such as immigration and border authorities.  The Working Group called on companies to exercise heightened human rights due diligence to avoid causing, contributing or becoming directly linked to adverse human rights impacts. 

On the visit to Switzerland, the Working Group supported Switzerland in continuing its leading role in different international fora pertinent to private military and security companies, including in discussions on the development of an international regulatory framework, and encouraged it to develop effective domestic regulations.

Statement by Concerned Country

Switzerland, speaking as a concerned country, said it was strongly involved internationally to ensure that private military and security companies respected international humanitarian law and human rights.  Switzerland had very early on become aware of the challenges linked to private security services and worked for their regulation.  It firmly opposed mercenarism and any activity linked to mercenaries.  Switzerland was a State party to Additional Protocol I of 1977 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949.  While Switzerland recognized the concerns of the Working Group on this subject, it considered that the question of the repatriation of foreign terrorist fighters went beyond the scope of the mandate of the Working Group.  It, however, stood ready to discuss the Working Group’s concerns in that regard.

Discussion

Speakers expressed support for the modernization of civil registries, and particularly the use of biometric technology, as it was an important step in the modernization of a state and a key element of good governance.  Some speakers encouraged the Working Group on the use of mercenaries to deepen its examination of the effects of the use of private military and security services on international criminal people trafficking and smuggling.  States should be particularly vigilant when they outsourced inherent government functions to private commercial actors that were motivated primarily by profit, as this led to situations in which human rights were subordinated to commercial interests.  The constant abuse by private and military companies had become particularly flagrant during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Speakers warned against the nefarious effects of the externalization of migration management, which sought to ensure the security of some at the expense of the security, dignity and human rights of others.  Governments outsourced warfare to benefit from plausible deniability where abuses were committed ; this practice was unprincipled and condemnable.  Speakers flagged human rights violations related to the use of private military and security services in or by the following countries : United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Saudi Arabia.

Concluding Remarks

CHRIS KWAJA, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the right of peoples to self-determination, said securing access to areas such as Yemen and Libya was a challenge.  Expressing gratitude for the support expressed by those present, he assured that their observations would be shared with other members of the Working Group.

Interactive Dialogue with the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development

Presentation of the Report

BONNY IBHAWOH, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development, presenting the report in a video message, said that the mandate of the new Mechanism had begun on 1 May 2020, with the mission "to research, identify and share best practices among Member States, and promote the implementation of the right to development worldwide”, and to advise the Council on this matter.  The first session of the Mechanism had been held virtually and focused on the mandate and working methods, collaboration with other human rights mechanisms, and other issues.  Members needed to give new impetus to the realization of the right to development by identifying the remaining obstacles and formulating concrete recommendations in this regard.  The Mechanism had decided to prepare studies on five main themes : operationalizing the right to development to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals ; racism and the right to development ; inequalities and the right to development ; right to development and international investment law ; and finally a case study on collaboration with non-state actors.  In that context, the Mechanism would, inter alia, collect empirical data and information about best practices, with a view to provide the Council with thematic expertise.

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