After approving without a vote five resolutions on requests for observer status in the General Assembly and deferring one request, the Sixth (Legal) Committee today commenced its discussion on the report and draft articles addressing the protection of persons in the event of disasters, with delegates debating the merits of elaborating an international treaty.
The Sixth Committee approved five draft resolutions on the requests for observer status for the New Development Bank, International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, European Public Law Organization, International Think Tank for Landlocked Developing Countries and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
These texts would have the General Assembly invite the organizations to participate in its sessions and work in the capacity of observers. The Committee also deferred the request for observer status for the Community of Democracies in the General Assembly to the seventy-fourth session.
The Sixth Committee then took up the report of the Secretary‑General on “Protection of persons in the event of disasters” (document A/73/229) and the related draft articles adopted by the International Law Commission in 2016 (document A/71/10). During the debate, delegates offered differing views on whether the elaboration of a convention would be worth pursuing.
Malaysia’s representative stated that the draft articles should not assume the form of a legally binding framework, a position her delegation had taken in the past. She underscored that it would be difficult for all Member States to strictly adhere to legally binding provisions of a convention in disaster situations where aid and relief requirements vary according to the circumstances. Such a one-size-fits-all approach would be unduly restrictive.
The representative of Mauritius, presenting a different view, highlighted the importance of international cooperation and the related two draft articles. He also drew attention to the United Nations Platform for Space‑based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UN-SPIDER) and its forecast for climate risk‑reduction. The increase in severe weather events, particularly the constant chess game between El Niño and La Niña, has been wreaking havoc around the world. In addition, human‑induced calamities have increased. With all of these phenomena in mind, a convention could save the day, he said.
Echoing those sentiments, Argentina’s representative recalled that the International Law Commission had recommended Governments pursue the adoption of a convention or a treaty. Natural disasters cause the most damage in locations where there is extreme poverty and high density of population, he said, noting that this goes hand‑in‑hand with the dearth of public policies to reduce risk. In that light, his country’s definition of disaster as socio‑natural means that it rejects the notion of disaster as somehow natural and inevitable.
Following that distinction, Togo’s delegate said that his country faced disasters of both types, both natural and human‑made in nature. Flooding, coastal erosion and fires had led to the increase of poverty and continued to hamper Togo’s economic progress. To this end, his Government has recently established a national civil protection agency, which updates prevention and management plans and raises awareness on civil protection.
The representative of Switzerland, while noting the innovative provisions of the Commission’s draft articles, urged that they be improved upon. The relevant norms should be more detailed and precise so that they can be more easily applied. In addition, the commentaries to the draft articles did not provide clarity to the relationship between the articles and international humanitarian law, she said, noting that some articles even contradicted that law.
While noting her support for the elaboration of a convention, the Philippines’ delegate underlined the importance of State sovereignty. Each State had the right to decide whether it requires the help of another State. Assistance should never be used as a pretext for intervening in the internal affairs of requesting States. The creation of a qualified consent regime will balance the right of sovereignty with the obligation of the sovereign to protect human life and human rights during disasters, she said.
Also speaking were representatives of El Salvador (speaking for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), Iceland (also speaking for Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden), Honduras, Italy, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Russian Federation, Portugal, Singapore, Colombia, United States, Japan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Peru, Iran, Israel, as well as the Sovereign Order of Malta.
The representatives of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Sixth Committee will next meet at 10 a.m. on Friday, 2 November, to take up its discussion of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country.
Requests for Observer Status
The Sixth Committee took up five resolutions on the request for observer status in the General Assembly and deferred one request for observer status to the seventy‑fourth session. (For background, see Press Release GA/L/3574).
The Committee deferred the request for observer status for the Community of Democracies (document A/C.6/73/L.9) in the General Assembly to the seventy‑fourth session.
The Committee approved without a vote the resolution on the request for observer status for the New Development Bank in the General Assembly (document A/C.6/73/L.4).
The Committee then approved without a vote the resolution on the request for observer status for the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea in the General Assembly (document A/C.6/73/L.5).
The Committee also approved without a vote the resolution on the request for observer status for the European Public Law Organization (document A/C.6/73/L.6).
The Committee then took up the resolution on the request for observer status for the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in the General Assembly (document A/C.6/73/L.7).
The representative of Morocco said that this draft resolution was not made available on the United Nations PaperSmart portal. However, it has now been reviewed in written form and his delegation would like to stand as a co‑sponsor.
The resolution was approved without a vote.
The Committee also approved without a vote the resolution on the request for observer status for the International Think Tank for Landlocked Developing Countries in the General Assembly (document A/C.6/73/L.8).
Introduction of Draft Resolution
The Committee then turned to the draft resolution, “Report of the Special Committee on the Charter of the United Nations and on Strengthening the Role of the Organization” (document A/C.6/73/L.10).
Introducing that text, the representative of Lesotho said that it is based on the language of previous General Assembly resolutions, with necessary technical updates. It also incorporates views expressed by delegates during the plenary as well as informal consultations. While the preambular paragraphs remain mostly unchanged, the operative paragraph 2 sets out dates for the session of the Special Committee in February.
She also noted that the question regarding assistance to third States affected by sanctions is being discussed by the Committee biannually. Therefore, because this question will not be considered in the next session, it was not included in the draft. The text reflects the consensus in the Sixth Committee, she said, requesting that the draft be adopted without a vote.
Right of Reply
The representative of Qatar, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, highlighted the International Court of Justice’s decision on the dispute between his country and the United Arab Emirates, stressing that that country must ensure that Qatari nationals living in that country can enjoy all their rights. Statutes and terms of reference of the International Court of Justice are an integral part of the United Nations Charter. All efforts at strengthening the role of the Organization and Charter mean that States must respect the decisions of the Court. However, the United Arab Emirates is avoiding the implementation of the Court’s decision, thereby undermining the work of the Charter. Noting that the Court called on both States to take no escalating measures, he said that Qatar had abided by that decision while the United Arab Emirates had not. “Our calls have gone unheeded, falling on deaf ears,” he said, urging the Government of the United Arab Emirates to deliver justice to Qatari nationals living in that country.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates said that the representative of Qatar is propagating erroneous allegations that his country is practising systematic discrimination and flouting international law. His country has agreed to abide by the International Court of Justice’s decision and will continue to enact measures to ensure that Qatari students can continue to pursue their studies in all institutions of higher learning in his country. Expressing astonishment that the representative of Qatar does not seem to know how many of its nationals are studying in the United Arab Emirates, he pointed out that there are 694 students, in addition to thousands of Qatari nationals who are allowed to exercise their full rights. “We shall not exploit international legal instruments for political purposes,” he said, adding that his Government will continue to implement the provisional elements of the International Court of Justice ruling.
The representative of Qatar said that he was compelled to refute the allegations propagated by the United Arab Emirates delegate who was seeking to bring politics into the traditions of the Sixth Committee. The campaign launched against his country is based on lies levelled by the United Arab Emirates, he said, adding that such actions are counter to international law. “You cannot tackle terrorism by violating human rights,” he said, adding that interfering in the United Arab Emirates’ domestic affairs is in no way part of Qatar’s policy.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates said that he did not want to move away from the scope of the Sixth Committee’s work. The scourge of terrorism looms large over the entire world and all States must enact measures to counteract the threat. Condemning certain violations of international humanitarian law by Qatar, such as financing of terrorism and interference in the domestic affairs of other States, he reaffirmed his country’s full respect for international law and its instruments.
Statements on Protection of Persons in Event of Disasters
RUBÉN ARMANDO ESCALANTE HASBÚN (El Salvador), speaking for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), welcomed the inclusion of the item in the General Assembly’s agenda and expressed appreciation to the International Law Commission for developing the relevant draft articles. The topic is increasingly relevant in a world where disasters have become more frequent and intense, creating social and economic havoc. It is vital that societies be prepared for disasters, he said, adding that the legally relevant instruments are not uniform or plenty.
Apart from some multilateral agreements and a much larger number of bilateral treaties on assistance, protection from disasters is composed of soft law and non‑binding instruments elaborated at the intergovernmental level, as well as by private institutions and entities, he said. Having an international legal framework is an attractive alternative that should be discussed.
BERGDIS ELLERTSDOTTIR (Iceland), also speaking for Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden said that the draft articles on the “Protection of persons in the event of disasters” deal with an increasingly relevant and topical area of public international law. They aim at further strengthening the international disaster relief and humanitarian assistance system. Further, they constitute a comprehensive framework for the reduction of risks of disasters, including through risk assessments and protection of persons, and set out the duty of the affected State to ensure protection, as well as the role of external assistance in this respect.
She also noted that the draft articles highlight human rights and the principles of human dignity, as well as underline that response to disasters should take place in accordance with the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. In this context, the integration of a gender perspective in humanitarian assistance is necessary to reach all parts of the population. That perspective ensures effective and impartial humanitarian assistance and strengthens protection of individuals during times of natural disasters. Reports by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent have highlighted increased risk of sexual and gender‑based violence in disasters and other emergencies. In addition, the International Law Commission has recommended that an international convention be elaborated based on the draft articles, she said, adding that she is open to discussion on that possibility.
YOLANNIE CERRATO (Honduras), associating herself with CELAC, hailed the inclusion in the provisional agenda of this important topic. Historically, Central America has borne the brunt of cyclical droughts. Climate change and various weather phenomena render the situation more harmful, leading to land degradation. Honduras has been hammered by the El Niño phenomenon, which has affected food security and undermines social and economic development. Draft article 3 is very important and could be expounded upon, she said, noting that draft articles 4 to 7 could be clustered together under a section entitled “principles”. Article 9 should be linked to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. She also linked the topic under discussion with the subject of “Sea-level rise in relation to international law”, which she hoped the International Law Commission would move to its current programme of work.
STEFANO STEFANILE (Italy), said that his country has had to cope with the dire consequences of natural disasters. As a result, it has developed an advanced system of civil protection. A stable regulatory framework channelling international cooperation and cooperation with the affected State is key to an effective and swift response by the international community every time the scale and effects of a disaster exceed the capacities of affected States. Unfortunately, as the Commission has explained in its commentaries, such a regulatory framework is missing, despite numerous bilateral agreements and soft‑law instruments. The draft articles constitute a balanced compromise between the enhanced responsibilities of the international community in relief operations and respect for States’ sovereign rights. In the age of global warming and booming population, the time has come for the United Nations to take the lead in providing a stable and comprehensive regulatory framework.
ELSADIG ALI SAYED AHMED (Sudan) stressed that draft article 4, which supports the principle of human dignity, is an essential principle of international human rights law. Lauding the Commission for recognizing the link between human rights and the principle of human dignity, he underscored that international cooperation is necessary to protect persons in disasters. He also spotlighted the Sendai Framework, emphasizing the responsibility of all States to cooperate. Nonetheless, cooperation should not diminish the primary role of the affected country. It is vital to consider the nature of the disaster, the needs of the affected persons and other important principles stipulated in draft article 8, he said, voicing support for the Commission’s decision to proceed towards development and codification of law in this area.
NATHALIE SCHNEIDER RITTENER (Switzerland) noted that the draft articles include innovative provisions. However, the relevant norms need to be more precise and detailed to ensure they can be smoothly applied. She also expressed concern about the ambiguity regarding the interplay between international humanitarian law and the draft articles. The Special Rapporteur has made amendments in an attempt to clarify this issue, but armed conflicts remain within the scope of the articles in situations of so‑called “complex emergencies” where they coexist with disasters. Also, commentaries to the draft articles fail to give greater clarity to the relationship between the articles and different areas of international humanitarian or human rights law. The resulting uncertainty and potential conflict of norms are particularly problematic, as some of the articles contradict international humanitarian law.
RISHY BUKOREE (Mauritius), thanking the International Law Commission for the draft articles, said it is gratifying to see the international community consider a convention on this subject. On the issue of cooperation, as noted in draft articles 7 and 8, he stressed that it is increasingly challenging for Member States to provide an adequate and timely humanitarian response capacity to deal with the consequences of natural disasters. In this regard, it would be worth asserting the progress made by the United Nations Platform for Space‑based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UN-SPIDER) and the Global Framework for Climate Services in providing relevant information and data. He also highlighted the increase in the severity of weather events such as hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones and tornadoes that are becoming more frequent. The constant chess game between El Niño and La Niña is wreaking havoc in many parts of the world. Human‑induced calamities and hazards also appear to have increased in severity and frequency. Against such a doom‑like background, he said that a Convention could save the day and lead to enhanced cooperation within the international community. Such an accord is feasible, but it is essential that the Commission tries to build on the current articles as they are quite flimsy. There is room for more elaboration, he said.
AMRITH ROHAN PERERA (Sri Lanka) said his country has been repeatedly devastated by floods, landslides, the 2004 tsunami and other disasters. It is often ravaged by savage floods causing hundreds of deaths and displacing thousands of people, which illustrates Sri Lanka’s helplessness in the face of environmental disasters. Noting that the International Law Commission on the topic sought to fill existing gaps in the global protection regime, he said the resultant draft articles are based on the work of numerous international organizations in consultation with relevant non‑governmental organizations. Consequent to Commission discussions, the Special Rapporteur struck the right balance between principles like State sovereignty and duty to cooperate, managing to work out a carefully calibrated and qualified consent regime for international assistance.
MAXIM V. MUSIKHIN (Russian Federation) expressed his gratitude to the International Law Commission on its work on the matter. However, the resulting draft articles do not constitute the codification of existing international law. He was also interested to read the opinions of States in the Secretary‑General’s report, he said, underscoring that they present divergent views. The Sixth Committee could approach discussion of this subject with a clean slate and not recommend concrete steps to States. He emphasized that thinking about a legally binding document would not be appropriate.
PAULO ALEXANDRE COLAÇO PINTO MACHADO (Portugal) said that “Protection of persons in the event of disasters” has gained great significance, given the occurrence of so many natural disasters and ongoing discussions on climate change. The final set of draft articles represents a good framework and provides an important contribution to the subject matter. Although there are some issues that could be further clarified, it is unquestionable that the final work of the Commission is an important contribution to the topic. His delegation has stated previously that the result of the work of the Commission should be translated into a legally binding instrument, namely into an international convention. Moving towards a convention allows States to claim the work of the Commission as their own and apply it as binding norms, with clear benefit for the protection of the rights of persons affected by disasters, he said.
LUKE TANG (Singapore) expressed appreciation for the inclusion of a diversity of State practice in the work of the International Law Commission, including that of the Association of South‑East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Draft articles on consideration and consent of affected States, for example, reflect articles in the ASEAN agreement on disaster management and also informed his country’s contributions to support relief efforts in neighbouring and regional countries in recent months. The draft articles are an important contribution to international law governing response to disasters, he said, welcoming further discussion on whether to elaborate a convention on the basis of the drafts.
FERNANDO ANDRÉS MARANI (Argentina), aligning himself with CELAC, thanked the Commission for the draft articles and recalled that the issue of protection of persons in the event of disaster has been a subject of much debate for 10 years since the Commission included it in its programme of work. Spotlighting the Commission’s recommendation that Governments pursue the adoption of a convention or treaty based on the draft articles, he underscored that his country has a wealth of experience in disaster management thanks to its White Helmets Commission. Argentina’s definition of disaster as a socio‑natural event rejects the definition of disaster as natural and inevitable. Natural disasters cause the most damage in locations where there is extreme poverty and high density of population, he said, noting that this goes hand‑in‑hand with the dearth of public policies to reduce risk.
BODE MANAFI (Togo) said that his country consistently faced disasters, whether natural or human‑made in nature. Persistent flooding, silting of water bodies, coastal erosion and fires lead to increase of poverty and destruction of livelihoods and undermines the State’s development efforts. The recurrent nature of the disaster compromises his country’s economic progress and the Government has for several years been struggling to provide relief to its population. A natural disaster risk reduction strategy has been implemented and an emergency plan at the national and regional levels has been adopted. As well, the Government has recently established a national civil protection agency. “This young agency supervises all relief and rescue work,” he said, adding that it also updates the various prevention and management plans, organizes simulation exercises and raises awareness on civil protection. However Togo is limited by its resources, he pointed out, applauding the work of the Commission which would enable the elaboration of a convention on the basis of these drafts.
JUAN CUELLAR TORRES (Colombia), associating himself with CELAC, said that, as a starting point for a convention, he supported the draft articles prepared. There is a pressing need to create a new base framework for cooperation in the face of disaster. States have turned to international cooperation both for responding to disaster and for help in reducing the risk of a disaster or the consequences of a disaster. Due to the growing number of instruments for disaster response, a patchy and inconsistent legal framework has sprung up. The main benefit of moving forward with the Commission’s draft articles is that it would help create a common legal framework. The draft also lends substance to what has already emerged as a stand-alone branch of international law — that of disaster response and risk reduction. With the aim of contributing to a consensus, all concerns of delegations with regard to the draft articles must be taken into account, he said.
EMILY PIERCE (United States) said the protection of persons in the event of disasters is a critically important issue and her Government is committed to reducing the risks and impacts of disasters both at home and abroad. Its approach takes into account the needs of those disproportionately affected and designs inclusive strategies to reduce risk and respond to disasters. The topic is best addressed through practical cooperation and guidance, working with Member States and stakeholders in a variety of ways to enhance collaboration. Those include the 2017 Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction in Cancun, Mexico, as well as the Sixth Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas, held earlier this year in Cartagena, Colombia.
SITI NUR BAYA JABAR (Malaysia) said that during the seventy‑first session of the General Assembly, several delegations, including Malaysia, expressed doubts about the need to develop a convention based on the draft articles prepared by the Commission. That stance still holds; the draft articles on this issue should not be in the form of a legally binding framework. It would be difficult for all Member States to strictly adhere to legally binding provisions of a convention in disaster situations where aid and relief requirements vary according to the circumstances. A one‑size‑fits‑all approach could prove unduly restrictive. Instead, States ought to be given the choice to decide whether to adopt the draft articles. The draft articles could be used as an international reference point with regard to disaster relief and management.
HOTAKA MACHIDA (Japan) said that it has been over seven years since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in his country. Just recently, big earthquakes had struck Osaka and Hokkaido. Because Japan is a high‑disaster risk country, his Government is keenly interested in the topic of protection of persons in the event of disaster. International legal norms are increasingly necessary in this field. The draft articles uphold the delicate balance between humanitarian requirements and national sovereignty in the event of disasters. Commending that the articles carefully consider the widespread practice of States, he reiterated the value of the articles and looked forward to fruitful discussions on them.
MOHAMMAD HUMAYUN KABIR (Bangladesh), stressing the importance of effective and timely responses to disasters, said that climate change had made such a response critical. The draft articles addressed the issues of protection and assistance. In case of disaster, it is the primary responsibility of the affected State to ensure assistance to persons in the territory under its jurisdiction. The terms “duty” or “role”, as used in the draft articles, do not sufficiently carry the notion of responsibility. The role of external actors relates to the provision of assistance at the express request of the affected States. Moreover, while the duty of the affected States to seek assistance may be clearly manifested in times of natural disasters, it might be subject to debate as to when and whether a human‑made disaster has affected the functioning of that society. Further, the provision of assistance should not be used as an excuse for interfering in the domestic affairs of the affected State, he stressed.
PATRICK LUNA (Brazil), noting that the draft articles are generally well‑balanced, said they contribute to filling a gap on the protection of persons in certain situations of disasters. However, he expressed concern about the broad scope of the articles, noting that by addressing in the same instrument both natural and human‑made disasters, the draft articles blend situations that relate to completely different law systems. It is important to preserve a clear distinction between the two kinds of disasters since the international regimes that address the challenges posed by those situations are completely different. Expressing appreciation for the draft article on the inherent dignity of the human persons, he emphasized that “it is important never to lose sight of the human rights perspective when addressing disaster displacement”.
ANGEL HORNA (Peru), describing the 18 draft articles as the fruit of a lengthy work, underscored that this is one of the outcomes of the work of the International Law Commission that could be taken up by the Sixth Committee in the interests of codification. The draft articles strike a welcomed balance between the rights of people in disaster and State sovereignty. He also highlighted the overlap between the draft articles and international humanitarian law, which is captured in draft article 18. He commended the fact that the draft articles also addressed disaster risk reduction, which is reflected in draft article 9. This is inspired by a series of principles drawn from international environmental law.
SATTAR AHMADI (Iran) emphasized at the outset that the protection of persons in the event of disasters has nothing to do with the concept of responsibility to protect. Any linkage in that regard would be inappropriate. For Iran, States have the exclusive right to determine when a disaster has taken place and when the disaster has terminated. Humanitarian assistance should be provided based on an appeal by the disaster‑affected State, with the principles governing humanitarian assistance being observed in parallel with the principles of respect for sovereign equality, territorial integrity and non‑interference in internal affairs. On article 13(2), which states that “consent to external assistance by the State victim to the disaster shall not be withheld arbitrarily”, he noted that such a stipulation depends on subjective criteria that risks being influenced by political factors. The duty to cooperate must be limited to cooperation between States, not between States and international organizations, he said, adding that he is uncertain whether the time is ripe to convene a diplomatic conference and adopt the provisions as a treaty.
MARIA ANGELA PONCE (Philippines) said the right of each State to decide whether or not it requires assistance from another State — without being compelled to accept it — should be affirmed. There must be a guarantee that such assistance, regardless of which State provides it, will not be used as a pretext for intervening in the internal affairs of requesting States. Emphasizing the Philippines’ experience with disasters, she said that creating a qualified consent regime for the affected State, to be exercised in good faith, will balance the right of sovereignty with the obligation of the sovereign to protect human life and human rights during disasters in a timely manner. While supporting article 16, she said she would appreciate clarification that the duty to protect relief workers and supplies should not entail the creation of unreasonable and disproportionate stress on the affected State’s ability to provide security and protection. Noting her support for the elaboration of a convention based on the draft articles, she added that such a text would be declaratory of existing practices among States and therefore help clarify and systemize those practices.
REUVEN EIDELMAN (Israel), expressing appreciation for the remarkable work of the Commission, voiced support for the General Assembly’s efforts to enhance protection for persons affected by disasters. Israeli teams have been at the forefront of countless rescue missions around the world, he said, noting their work in Mexico and Guatemala. However, the undertaking to engage in a protection mission should not be considered in terms of legal rights and duties. The articles should remain guidelines for international cooperation on a voluntary basis.
NICOLA TEGONI, Sovereign Order of Malta, said that his organization is active in 120 countries. Its broad spectrum of social projects helps forgotten members of society, especially those living in the midst of armed conflict and natural disasters. Recent interventions have taken place in Indonesia, where members of the Order were deployed to help the victims of the September 2018 violent earthquake and tsunami. Maltese and international emergency response teams consist of specialists, medics, paramedics and experts in the areas of clean water and sanitation. The Order has a long history of providing emergency relief in Indonesia, including after the 2004 tsunami. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, it joined efforts to work to improve water and sanitation for the most affected communities. Other work has taken place in Nepal, the Philippines, the Horn of Africa and across Europe, he said.