Header image for news printout

Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercive Measures to the Human Rights Council: the Overwhelming Majority of Unilateral Measures Applied Today are Illegal under International Law

Council Concludes Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation

15 September 2021

The Human Rights Council this afternoon started an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, who said that the overwhelming majority of unilateral measures applied today were illegal under international law.

Alena Douhan, Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, said that the world community was facing an enormous expansion in the scope, grounds, purposes, targets, means, mechanisms and extraterritoriality of unilateral sanctions.  The absence of a reliable legal qualification and a universally recognised definition of unilateral coercive measures had resulted in the growing violation of the rule of law and an enormous humanitarian impact.  Unilateral measures may be taken by States or regional organizations only in compliance with international legal standards.  Unilateral sanctions that did not satisfy these criteria constituted unilateral coercive measures and were illegal under international law.  She regretted that these were the overwhelming majority of unilateral measures applied today.

Ms. Douhan spoke about her country visits to Qatar and to Venezuela.  She called on all States to use mechanisms of peaceful settlement of international disputes to settle their differences in accordance with international law.  Humanitarian concerns should always be taken into account by States when deciding on the application of any unilateral measures. 

Qatar and Venezuela spoke as countries concerned.  The National Human Rights Committee of Qatar also took the floor.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded the interactive dialogue with Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation.  He presented his report in the morning meeting and a summary can be found here

In the discussion on safe drinking water and sanitation, speakers expressed their appreciation for the objective approach that characterised the report, and stressed that the global water crisis facing the planet required increased joint coordination and intensified cooperation.  While welcoming the Special Rapporteur’s plan in carrying out his mandate from 2020 to 2023, some speakers noted with concern factors that deepened the global water crisis as elaborated in the report, namely climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and challenges in democratic water governance.  Speakers noted that there was no doubt that the pandemic had had a critical impact globally, and that there were still many people without access to clean water and sanitation, rendering the ability to fight the pandemic very limited.  In this context, it was the responsibility of States that, while dealing with these crises, to ensure that access to safe drinking water and sanitation continued to be provided with equitable and affordable access for all. 

Speaking in the interactive dialogue were Indonesia, Armenia, Mexico, United Nations Children's Fund, Slovenia, Egypt, Spain, Senegal, Israel, Costa Rica, Bangladesh, Iraq, Togo, South Africa, Venezuela, Angola, Holy See, Kenya, Russian Federation, Morocco, India, Saudi Arabia, Peru, Malaysia, Nepal, Namibia, China, El Salvador, Portugal, Bolivia, Libya, Mauritania, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Sudan, Gabon, Vanuatu, Hungary, Georgia, Afghanistan, Algeria, Benin, Mali, Viet Nam, Botswana, Panama, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Malawi, Tunisia, Cameroon, Bulgaria, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Timor-Leste, Lesotho, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Tanzania, Cambodia, Azerbaijan and Haiti.

Taking the floor was the following national human rights institution: National Human Rights Commission of India.  The following non-governmental organizations also spoke: International Lesbian and Gay Association, Edmund Rice International Limited, Peace Brigades International, Make Mothers Matter, Sikh Human Rights Group, China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII, Franciscans International, Global Institute for Water, Environment and Health, Promotion du Développement Economique et Social.

Japan, Ukraine, China, Armenia and Azerbaijan spoke in right of reply.

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-eighth regular session can be found here.

The Council will resume its work at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 16 September, to hold a panel discussion on unilateral coercive measures with the theme “Unilateral sanctions: jurisdiction and extraterritoriality”.  This will be followed by the conclusion of the interactive debate with the Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation

Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, presented his report in the morning meeting and a summary can be found here.

Discussion

While some speakers said they were sorry that the first report of the new Special Rapporteur, dedicated to his work plans for 2020-2023, took so long, others welcomed Mr. Arrojo-Agudo's first interactive dialogue with the Council, adding that his work was highly valued.  They further expressed their appreciation for the objective approach that characterised the report, and stressed that the global water crisis facing the planet required increased joint coordination and intensified cooperation.  While welcoming the Special Rapporteur’s plan in carrying out his mandate from 2020 to 2023, some speakers noted with concern factors that deepened the global water crisis as elaborated in the report, namely climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and challenges in democratic water governance. 

Speakers noted that there was no doubt that the pandemic had had a critical impact globally, and that there were still many people without access to clean water and sanitation, rendering the ability to fight the pandemic very limited.  In this context, it was the responsibility of States to ensure that, while dealing with these crises, access to safe drinking water and sanitation continued to be provided with equitable and affordable access for all.  Speakers further said that fresh water and sanitation were at the core of a healthy and sustainable future, therefore States should ensure clean water and sanitation to all their citizens, especially the most vulnerable ones.  The right to safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation services, including for menstrual health and hygiene, was essential for public health, contributed to social cohesion and must be a global priority.  Strong international cooperation, democratic water and sanitation governance as well as adequate, dedicated and sustainable resources were needed to ensure the universal implementation of this right by 2030. 

Interim Remarks by the Special Rapporteur

PEDRO ARROJO-AGUDO, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, said that he was happy to see so many countries reacting to the socio-environmental approach to human rights that was at the core of his approach for his mandate.  “For too long we have confronted environmental values to social ones, and climate change is explaining to us very clearly the convergence of both”, he said.  In the case of water, he stated that this was an amazing platform to understand both better.  He urged the breaking of silos within the United Nations, if they wanted the most vulnerable people to have access to water.  “We must change our approach and our mentality and integrate the environmental issue with respect to human rights”, he said.  He would keep on building bridges with that aim, adding that cost selective solutions were nearly all the time eco-system solutions.  Everyone wanted to talk about safe drinking water but no one wanted to talk about sanitation, despite the fact that they could not have one without the other.  Sanitation must be included in the conversation, as well as menstrual health and hygiene.

Discussion

Speakers regretted that climate change continued to alter the climatic conditions around the world, making it harder to predict precipitation and other weather events in the future.  In view of the above, they urged the Special Rapporteur to investigate new ways to effectively secure sources of clean water as well as ways to avoid deficiencies in water catchment and storage systems in his future reports.  They shared his concern about the difficulties faced to ensure the realisation of the right to water and sanitation in the modern world and agreed on the need to defend the traditional understanding of water as a common and indispensable good for life, which should be available to everyone.  Other speakers also called on taking a holistic or ecosystem approach to understanding water resources and demands in any given refugee context, as they explained that the full rights to water and sanitation could be better realised and peaceful coexistence between refugees and host communities ensured.  Additionally, as highlighted in the report, speakers stated that it was the most at-risk population groups, like refugees, that were in need of increased resilience on the basis of fulfilling their rights in order to counteract the impacts of climate change.

Concluding Remarks by the Special Rapporteur

PEDRO ARROJO-AGUDO, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, said that one of the topics raised by many countries was about scarcity, a term that he questioned.  “What do you mean by this? Scarcity in relation to the human right to drinking water, a right that 2.2 billion people do not have?” he asked.  These people have similar contexts, he said, either an arid or semi-arid climate or they lived next to polluted rivers or springs on which they depended.  He added that to him it was essential to make peace with the environment, and when some countries talked about technology, and as much as he welcomed technology, he insisted on the fact that the most affordable solutions were in nature, in the ecosystem.  On the factors deepening the crisis, he commented on the fact that many States talked about climate change as the most serious social impacts were related to water, so he said as much as the world needed an energy transition, it could not happen without a water transition.  In a final note, he mentioned COVID-19 and acknowledged its impact as much as the opportunity to learn better processes as the world was now conscious to not leave anyone behind.  He said that if public health was a democratic issue and not a business,  water and sanitation must be as well.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Negative Impact of Unilateral Coercive Measures on the Enjoyment of Human Rights

ALENA DOUHAN, Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, said that the world community was facing an enormous expansion in the scope, grounds, purposes, targets, means, mechanisms and extraterritoriality of unilateral sanctions.  The absence of a reliable legal qualification and a universally recognised definition of unilateral coercive measures had resulted in the growing violation of the rule of law and an enormous humanitarian impact.  Unilateral measures may be taken by States or regional organizations only in compliance with international legal standards: if they were authorised by the Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, in response to a breach of peace, a threat to peace or an act of aggression; if they did not violate any international treaty or customary norm of international law; or if their wrongfulness was excluded in accordance with international law in the course of countermeasures, in full compliance with the rules of law of international responsibility, including the obligation to guarantee that fundamental human rights were not violated.  Unilateral sanctions that did not satisfy the above criteria constituted unilateral coercive measures and were illegal under international law.  She regretted that these were the overwhelming majority of unilateral measures applied today.

Ms. Douhan proposed the following definition for unilateral coercive measures as any type of measures or activity applied by a State, group of States or regional organization without or beyond the authorisation of the Security Council; that was not in conformity with international obligations of the sanctioning actor; or the illegality of which was not excluded on grounds of the law of international responsibility, regardless of the announced purpose or objective.  Such measures or activities included, but were not limited to, economic, financial, political or any other sort of State-oriented or targeted measures applied to another State or an individual, company or other non-governmental entity, in order to induce a change in policy or behaviour, to obtain from a State the subordination of the exercise of its sovereign rights, to secure advantages of any kind, or to signal, coerce or punish.

The Special Rapporteur said her country visit to Qatar was a “good story” example.  She commended the Al-Ula Agreement and the pursuant implementation, including the establishment of bilateral negotiation mechanisms between Qatar and Bahrain, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia with a view to fully restore political, economic and social relations to the same level as before the 2017 dispute.  The bilateral negotiation mechanisms established between Qatar and the four States were achieving progress at different paces. 

Ms. Douhan said her country visit to Venezuela demonstrated the opposite – the extremely dangerous adverse effect of unilateral sanctions imposed by a number of States, including the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada, Mexico, Switzerland and the Lima Group, on Venezuela.  Sectoral sanctions prevented the earning of revenues and the use of resources to maintain and develop infrastructure and for social support programs, which had a devastating effect on the entire population of Venezuela, especially the most vulnerable groups.  Humanitarian exemptions appeared to be ineffective and insufficient.

Ms. Douhan called on all States to use mechanisms of peaceful settlement of international disputes to settle their differences in accordance with international law.  Humanitarian concerns should always be taken into account by States when deciding on the application of any unilateral measures, including countermeasures (humanitarian precaution), as well as in the course of their implementation. 

Statements by Countries Concerned

Venezuela, speaking as a country concerned, said Professor Douhan had held - with total freedom and independence – a field visit with a wide agenda of meetings, which had allowed her to know the reality of Venezuela.  She had made it clear that these "measures", in the form of collective punishments, applied by the United States with the complicity of other States and the European Union, flagrantly violated international law.  Venezuela took note of her conclusions, which pointed to these illegal measures as international illegalities that threatened the Venezuelan people, and demanded their immediate cessation.  Venezuela was now forced to sustain itself with one per cent of its oil revenues.  Despite this, the public health system had greatly preserved its capabilities, with a clear emphasis on the fight against the pandemic.  The United States continued to promote its failed policy of seeking changes in sovereign governments, at the expense of the peoples. 

Qatar, speaking as a country concerned, affirmed its principled and firm position against unilateral coercive measures in any form, regardless of the motives and origins, on the grounds that they violated the Charter of the United Nations and relevant laws and conventions, in particular international human rights law.  Under the Al-Ula Declaration, it had been agreed that the blockade and coercive measures imposed on the State of Qatar would end.  It had also been agreed to restore relations between the State of Qatar and the four countries, and bilateral committees had been established to discuss a number of issues to implement what was agreed in the said declaration.  Qatar hoped that lessons would be drawn from this crisis and that it would be an incentive for more cooperation and solidarity to achieve a better future for relations between those countries.

National Human Rights Committee of Qatar, said that the Special Rapporteur’s report was objective and neutral in addressing the aspects of the crisis and the point of views of the concerned States.  The Committee thanked the Special Rapporteur, not only for welcoming the Al-Ula Declaration and its mechanisms, but also for her persistence to facilitate equal access to a justice system to all the individuals whose human rights had been breached due to the restrictive measures imposed on Qatar, before ending the dispute, and to secure their rights for compensation – if needed.

 

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/09/lecrasante-majorite-des-mesures-unilaterales-appliquees

 

For use of the information media; not an official record