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GA/SHC/4329
22 October 2021
Seventy-sixth Session, Virtual Meetings (AM & PM)

Third Committee Delegates Demand Debt Cancellation, Creation of Just World Order as Experts Denounce Rights Violations in Myanmar, Elsewhere

Delegates in the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today demanded freedom from unsustainable debt financing terms, as they tackled a range of areas in which human rights must be at the heart of efforts to create a more just world, from addressing discrimination against people with albinism to alleviating food shortages in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Opening a packed day of interactive dialogues, Livingstone Sewanyana, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, described “a two-track pandemic”:  one a health crisis, the other a vaccine-nationalism emergency with States striking exclusive deals to fulfil their inoculation requirements at the expense of others.  “There should be absolutely no room for geopolitics with regard to vaccines in these challenging times,” he stressed.  He called for the adoption of an international treaty for pandemic preparedness, as well as the establishment of a debt relief mechanism and global fund for social protection.

The discussion of such mitigation measures continued in the briefing by Attiya Waris, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, who described her report as “a call to States ‑ and the international community at large ‑ to reform the international debt architecture”, with human rights at its core.

Drawing urgent attention to the impending debt crisis confronting low- and middle-income countries, she explained that resources earmarked to help the poor have instead been funnelled into debt containment and management.  “Human rights require resources,” she declared.  Debt cancellation ‑ based on human rights and debt sustainability assessments, rather than criteria set by the World Bank or International Monetary Fund ‑ is needed.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegates registered their concerns, with Fiji’s representative emphasizing that small island developing States face the double burden of foreign debt and COVID‑19, while Cuba’s delegate highlighted the ruinous effects of unilateral sanctions on nations that lack the resources to cover their financial obligations during a health emergency.

In the afternoon, the focus turned to country-specific human rights situations, with Christine Schraner Burgener, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Myanmar, reporting that the country, following the coup in February, now faces enduring conflict, economic collapse and ongoing violations of human rights.  “What was once the plight of minority communities is now a shared reality across all of Myanmar,” she warned.  As long as the Commander-in-Chief and the Tatmadaw remain in charge, Myanmar’s prospects would remain bleak.  “If Senior General Min Aung Hlaing truly cares about his country’s future, he must step down and hand the Tatmadaw’s power over to the civilian Government, in line with the will of the people,” she reported.

Thomas H. Andrews, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, called for action in response to probable crimes against humanity perpetrated by the junta, which include murder, displacement, arbitrary detention and torture.  The military has moved troops to the north and north-west regions and cut Internet access in those areas.  These, he cautioned, were the same manoeuvres carried out before the genocidal attacks against the Rohingya in Rakhine state in 2016 and 2017.  The international community should be prepared for similar events to unfold, he said, stressing, “I desperately hope that I am wrong.”

Responding, the representative of Myanmar agreed that his country cannot be governed by violence and that the junta bears more resemblance to an occupying force than a defender of its people.  It has murdered almost 1,200 civilians, including 75 children, proving that “the military junta is not at war with a particularly political entity, but with the whole population of Myanmar”.  The military seems to be of the view that it can carry out these acts with impunity, he said.  “The international community must prove them wrong.”

Tomás Ojea Quintana, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, outlined the “drastic” measures authorities have taken to prevent COVID‑19 from crossing its borders, which reportedly include a policy of shooting individuals who attempt to enter or leave.  He also stressed that the United Nations’ humanitarian work ‑ halted due to the pandemic ‑ should resume in order to alleviate grave food shortages.  “The people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea should not have to choose between the fear of hunger and the fear of COVID-19,” he stressed.

Also presenting findings today were the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism and the Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi.

The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on 25 October to continue its consideration of the promotion and protection of human rights.

Democratic, Equitable International Order

LIVINGSTONE SEWANYANA, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, presenting his fourth report (document A/76/153) on the need for renewed multilateralism in the face of the pandemic, praised the work of all actors under the World Health Organization (WHO) Access to COVID‑19 Tools Accelerator to ensure the equitable distribution. “There is now a two-track pandemic,” he said, criticizing the vaccine nationalism and hoarding exhibited by some States that have forged deals with pharmaceutical companies for the benefit of their own citizens.  A multilateral approach is the only way forward.  He said he is similarly dismayed by vaccine diplomacy, stressing that “there should be absolutely no room for geopolitics with regard to vaccines in these challenging times”.

He called for strengthening WHO’s mandate and the adoption of an international treaty for pandemic preparedness to complement international health regulations.  Expressing support for emergency measures taken by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to mitigate the economic impact of the crisis on developing countries, he requested greater support in the form of a debt relief mechanism, as proposed by the United Nations, a more balanced tax system, the establishment of a global fund for social protection and the introduction of an emergency universal basic income.

In addition, he advocated for greater inclusion of civil society in multilateral forums, emphasizing their essential role in pandemic response efforts. Renewing multilateralism also requires reform of the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council and international financial institutions, he said, promoting a more effective and inclusive approach.  He considered the COVID‑19 pandemic an opportunity to achieve a democratic and equitable international order.

When opening the floor for questions and comments, delegates agreed on the need to strengthen international solidarity and to renew multilateralism, with Cuba’s delegate pointing to the disproportionate impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on developing countries and denouncing the United States embargo against his country.  The representatives of China and the Russian Federation shared similar views, while Azerbaijan’s delegate, expressing views on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, reaffirmed the importance of international law and the need to respect all forms of democracies, in line with the Charter of the United Nations.

The Russian Federation’s delegate meanwhile objected to vaccine nationalism as a violation of human rights.  Similarly, the representative of Venezuela underlined that vaccines should be regarded as universal assets and called for a lifting of vaccine patents.

Mr. SEWANYANA reiterated the need for renewed multilateralism.  Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals requires international solidarity, especially in efforts to tackle climate change and poverty.  “Multilateralism is the only way forward,” he said.  He concluded by underlining that more progressive measures should be explored instead of unilateral measures due to their detrimental impact on populations.

Interactive Dialogues ‑ Foreign Debt, International Financial Obligations

ATTIYA WARIS, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, presenting her report (document A/76/167), expressed serious concern over the imminent debt crisis facing many low- and middle-income countries, coupled with protectionist measures in high-income countries.  A year and a half into the COVID‑19 pandemic, an unstable debt situation has been created and is severely affecting low-income, middle-income and small island developing nations.  Debt service has crowded out social expenditures, increasingly diverting resources to debt crisis containment and management, away from the urgent needs of people living in poverty.  While developed countries have made progress with vaccinations and economic reopening, a lack of vaccination in Africa, Latin America and Asia is a matter of great concern.  “Human rights require resources,” she stressed, underscoring that States need the fiscal space and funds to invest in essential services, without discrimination.

She said the report, prepared by her predecessor, focuses on reform of the international debt architecture, offering recommendations to resolve the current debt crisis and to prevent future ones.  She explained that the current processes to do so evolved as a patchwork of norms, actors and procedures through “trial and error”, driven by the needs of creditors and creditor-dominated institutions.  While many reform proposals have been put forward over the years, not much progress has been made.  “The report is a call to States ‑ and the international community at large ‑ to reform the international debt architecture, and to do so with human rights as the centre and ultimate goal,” she stressed.

In that spirit, she said the report recommends that an immediate debt standstill be created for those countries hit hard by the pandemic, as well as a large-scale liquidity provision for debt-free, condition-free financing.  There also should be a legitimate, independent and fair debt workout mechanism that would incur the least possible costs on debtor countries and feature a lead role played by the United Nations.  In addition, sovereign lending and borrowing, and the resolution of debt repayment difficulties, must follow commonly agreed principles.  Further, debt cancellation is needed and should be based on debt sustainability assessments that are linked to human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals, rather than those created by the World Bank or International Monetary Fund.  For their part, credit rating agencies must be reformed to avoid conflicts of interest in the provision of credit ratings.  She also called for continued quota reform at the IMF, as unjustifiable retrogressive measures affecting human rights must not be included as part of the Fund’s conditionalities.

When the floor opened for comments and questions, delegates expressed their concern over debt and the current debt architecture, with the representative of Cuba stressing that many developing countries, especially the smallest, have had to choose between using limited resources to respond to the health and economic crises brought on by the pandemic and honouring their debts.  The solution lies in international cooperation and solidarity, he said, as well as in stopping all unilateral coercive measures.  He urged the Independent Expert to examine the impact of such measures on efforts to resolve foreign debt burdens.  The representative of Fiji drew attention to the profound adverse impact of COVID‑19 on small island developing States and their debt burdens, noting that the future looks increasingly difficult as they face climate catastrophes.  The representative of Ethiopia denounced a lack of adequate development finance, which imperils the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.  She called for reform of the international debt architecture, asking the Independent Expert what elements should be incorporated into the new action programme for least developed countries in terms of debt sustainability.

Ms. WARIS responded that there is now an opening to ensure that fiscal support for human rights is allocated holistically, a point reflected in the report.  A good way forward, in response to Ethiopia’s query, she said, is to address credit rating industries.

Persons with Albinism

MULUKA-ANNE MITI-DRUMMOND, Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of Human Rights by Persons with Albinism, presenting her report (document A/76/188), stressed that albinism is still profoundly misunderstood worldwide, with dangerous myths and erroneous beliefs around the condition fuelling harmful practices and human rights violations including bullying and, in extreme cases, killings.  Persons with albinism report suffering from social exclusion, often marked by inadequate access to employment, health care and education opportunities, which in turn causes severe deterioration in their mental health.  Many report suffering from depression, panic attacks and suicidal ideation.

She explained that in some countries, pejorative names such as “ghost”, “white monkey” and “curse” are commonly used.  The global media has also fuelled negative perceptions, often portraying persons with albinism as villains, evil, sadistic, mystical or supernatural, exacerbating stigmatization.  Stressing that women and children with albinism are the most-reported victims of rights violations, she said that in some countries, women report being abandoned by their spouses or partners upon giving birth to a child with albinism, often accused of infidelity due to the colouring of the child.  Around the world, children with albinism are bullied; in Africa, they are attacked due to misbeliefs that the body parts of a child can be more potent for rituals.

Pointing out that visual impairment is commonly linked to albinism and that many people with the condition are recognized as persons with disabilities, she said they are nonetheless often overlooked when it comes to disability-focused national policies, and that their susceptibility to skin cancer is rarely taken into account.  Sharing good practices, she drew attention to the establishment of the Global Albinism Alliance and the African Albinism Alliance, as well as the to the United Nations resolution on the elimination of harmful practices related to accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks.  The African Union Plan of Action on Ending Attacks and Human Rights Violations against Persons with Albinism (2021‑2031) is another success.  She highlighted national action plans, along with services and awareness-raising programmes, in Fiji, Kenya, Malawi and Nigeria, urging Member States, against that backdrop, to combat the negative stereotyping and to guarantee access to adequate health, education and employment opportunities.

When the floor opened for questions and comments, delegates echoed concerns about attitudinal barriers faced by persons with albinism, including an observer for the European Union, who highlighted the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and worrying trends of violence.  Countries must work to end impunity around these crimes, including sexual and gender-based violence, and he asked how States can ensure a human rights-based approach is taken.  The representative of Malawi meanwhile reiterated his country’s commitment to ending attitudinal barriers through its national action plan, citing provisions related to protection and inclusion.

Others offered views on the report.  The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania pressed the Independent Expert to use updated data so as not to create a scenario that does not exist.  For example, paragraphs 23 and 24 appear to rely heavily on past data, and as a result, some conclusions may not be factual.  In her country, the stereotype is “almost non-existent” due to several initiatives taken by the Government.  Likewise, myths and superstitions surrounding albinism are based on a study from 2018 ‑ almost 3 years ago.

Echoing this sentiment, the representative of India cited multiple references to his country in the report and expressed disappointment that the Independent Expert relied solely on one source ‑ a document produced by a private company ‑ for its references.  Multiple and credible sources should be used before making conclusions, he underscored.

Ms. MITI-DRUMMOND, responding, reiterated the call for States to implement national action plans on albinism that are multisectoral, are appropriately resourced and aim to ensure the inclusion and active participation of persons with albinism.  To the representative of the United Republic of Tanzania, she responded that the report is drafted in cooperation with persons with albinism, who have raised concern over stereotypes and name-calling, which, in their view, persist.

The representative of Azerbaijan, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said that at its 2019 summit the Movement reiterated the importance it places on the promotion of human rights through a constructive, non-confrontational manner with objectivity and respect for international sovereignty and non-interference in the internal State affairs.  He emphasized the role of the Human Rights Council, as a subsidiary of the General Assembly, in the consideration of human rights situations in all countries.  Recalling that, at the summit, the Movement expressed concern over the proliferation of selective country-specific resolutions in the Third Committee, he similarly rejected the Security Council's ongoing practice of dealing with human rights issues in the pursuit of the political objectives of certain States.

Interactive Dialogue

CHRISTINE SCHRANER BURGENER, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General on Myanmar, presenting her report (document A/76/312), said that over eight months have passed since the military takeover on 1 February 2021, and the overall situation in Myanmar continues to deteriorate sharply, with conflict intensifying in many parts of the country.  “Repression by the military has led to more than 1,180 deaths,” she said.  The suffering of already vulnerable communities, especially the Rohingya and other ethnic and religious minorities, has escalated.  Support for basic human rights, humanitarian conditions, and socioeconomic circumstances are in a rapid decline, as is the country’s capacity to address the shared threat of COVID‑19.  In the absence of collective international pressure, support and unified effort to advance a resolution, the violence will continue.  Under the current trajectory, the most likely scenario facing Myanmar is one of protracted conflict and, with it, collapse of the economy, larger scale displacement and increasingly grave human rights abuses ‑ all of which will have severe consequences for the people of Myanmar, its neighbours and the broader region.

“What was once the plight of minority communities is now a shared reality across all of Myanmar,” she said, noting that the military has been unresponsive to calls to prevent violence or pursue critical steps aimed at de-escalating tensions, such as the immediate release of President Win Myint, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and others.  In addition, the lack of progress on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) five-point consensus has been problematic, and hope for peaceful solutions has waned, she said, underscoring that violence generates violence.

Noting the end of her mandate and offering personal concluding remarks, she said she did not see a stable nor viable future for Myanmar under the leadership of the Commander-in-Chief and the Tatmadaw.  “If Senior General Min Aung Hlaing truly cares about his country’s future, he must step down and hand the Tatmadaw’s power over to the civilian Government, in line with the will of the people,” she said.  She expressed her conviction that “there are many within those ranks whose hearts are heavy and who know Myanmar’s children and youth are being robbed of the future they were promised”.

When the floor opened for comments and questions, the representative of Myanmar stressed that it is time for a unified response to help put the country back on the path to democratic reform.  These efforts must be accompanied by the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other unjustly detained detainees.  Emphasizing that the situation continues to deteriorate, and that 54 million people cannot be governed by violence, he said that in the eyes of Myanmar’s people, the military is more like an occupying force than like the protector it is supposed to be.  While respect for democracy has been demanded, the military response has been “atrocious”, he said, marking the murder of almost 1,200 civilians, including 75 children.  People have no choice but to defend themselves.  “The military junta is not at war with a particular political entity, but with the whole population of Myanmar,” he explained.  On the Rohingya, he said the National Unity Government is seeking accountability for serious crimes, including against the Rohingya.  He commended the Special Envoy for her hard work, friendship and principled position and for standing with the people of Myanmar.  He asked about her recommendations to her successor for transforming Myanmar into a democratic and prosperous society.

On the plight of the Rohingya, the representative of Bangladesh noted that over 1 million Rohingya are sheltering in her country, while 600,000 are still confined to internally displaced persons camps in Myanmar.  She asked the Envoy for the message she would convey to her successor.  The representative of Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, said her country is following with concern all that pertains to the Rohingya, particularly displacement, human rights violations and the destruction of mosques.  The international community should work together to find a solution to the situation of this minority so that they can be protected.  She asked for recommendations for a solution and how the international community could work to that end.

Several delegations noted the need to prevent arms from reaching Myanmar, with the representative of Switzerland expressing his concern over the excessive use of force and the number of people who have been killed, arbitrarily detained or displaced since the coup in Myanmar.  He asked the Special Envoy about the General Assembly resolution’s provision regarding asking States to prevent the flow of arms into the country.  In a similar vein, the representative of Australia condemned ongoing human rights violations and joined calls for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access and the discontinuation of violence.  The ongoing violence highlights the need for international cooperation to halt the flow of arms into Myanmar.

Delegations also highlighted the need to adhere to ASEAN’s five-point plan. The representative of Japan noted that his country has been coordinating with the international community on the situation.  The representative of Indonesia said that there has been insufficient progress on the fulfilment of ASEAN’s five-point plan and expressed concern over Myanmar’s commitment to that process.

Also speaking were representatives of Liechtenstein, Germany, United Kingdom, Denmark, Turkey, Malaysia, Thailand, Russian Federation and the United States. An observer for the European Union also spoke.

Ms. SCHRANER GURGENER, responding to comments and questions, said that it is difficult to control the implementation of the General Assembly resolution on the flow of arms but urged Member States to do so. On accountability, she said she was pleased the Independent Investigative Mechanism was collecting evidence.  On recommendations to her successor, she said the possibility of the military takeover failing should not be discarded, and her advice is to reach out to all interlocutors and not to give legitimacy to ministers appointed by the Tatmadaw. On the Rohingya, she commended the continued support by the Government of Bangladesh.  The problem is that an illegitimate Government has power in Myanmar.  Once this has been addressed, the conditions in Rakhine need to be made conducive.  She highlighted the need for continuing donor support for refugees and the communities hosting them, so that they can continue living safe and productive lives until solutions can be found.

THOMAS H. ANDREWS, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said that since his last report one year ago, a military coup has devastated Myanmar, plunging it into a deep human rights, humanitarian and economic crisis.  Recalling his conversations with scores of affected people, he declared:  “They desperately want this body and the world to know of the horror that has engulfed their country.”  However, many also question whether members of the United Nations care enough to take action.  Presenting his report (document A/76/314), he said that increased attacks by the military junta have taken place against the backdrop of a grossly disproportionate response by the international community. 

Urging the Committee to care more about the unfolding catastrophe, and to act, he spotlighted probable crimes against humanity by the Myanmar military since the February coup.  Those include the murder of over 1,200 civilians, the displacement of more than a quarter million people, the arbitrary detention of over 8,000 people ‑ with many tortured to death ‑ and credible reports of children being tortured and abused by junta forces.  He added that at least 100 journalists have lost their freedom, while doctors, nurses and other health care professionals continue to be attacked, harassed and arrested.  While peaceful protests continue against the junta, such gross and unrelenting violations of human rights have led farmers, students, factory workers and others to take desperate measures, such as picking up rudimentary weapons to fight back.

Citing evidence of human rights violations on the part of those opposition forces ‑ which are also unacceptable and must end ‑ he went on to note, “We are very likely on the eve of yet another catastrophe.”  The junta has been moving tens of thousands of troops and weapons into the north and north-west regions of the country, ostensibly preparing for offensive operations against local defence forces.  They also recently cut off Internet access in those areas.  Warning that those same tactics were used in the genocidal attacks against the Rohingya in Rakhine State in 2016 and 2017, he urged the international community to be prepared, stressing: “I desperately hope that I am wrong.”  He called for efforts to cut off the flow of money, weapons and legitimacy to the junta, while also expanding humanitarian aid and support to the people of Myanmar.  The Security Council also should pass a resolution prohibiting arms sales to Myanmar, reinforcing a similar General Assembly text.

When the floor opened for questions and comments, the representative of Myanmar expressed support for the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations and called for their effective and timely implementation.  Myanmar has been under the military coup for almost nine months now, and people continue to suffer atrocities and inhumane actions by the military and its security forces.  These violations include extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture ‑ acts that were premediated and committed as a part of a widespread and systemic attack against civilians to terrorize them into submission.  The military demonstrates that they can get away with any serious international crime.  “The international community must prove them wrong,” he declared.  The mechanisms continue to collect, analyse and preserve evidence of serious crimes committed in Myanmar, and he called on Member States to step forward, end the military’s impunity, ensure accountability and protect the rights of the Myanmar people who are entitled to enjoy their basic human rights.

The representative of the United Kingdom similarly expressed concern about persistent reports of torture and “abhorrent” detention, starvation and even burning of children.  The work of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar is critical in capturing evidence of such violations of international law for future use in criminal courts, he asserted. He asked the Special Rapporteur how the international community can ensure that those responsible for arbitrary arrests and torture are held to account.  Along similar lines, the representative of the United States said the military is escalating violence against the people of Myanmar and reportedly employing torture against members of civil society, journalists and human rights defenders to suppress peaceful opposition to its rule.  He urged the international community to act collectively to pressure the military into ending the violence and restoring Myanmar’s democratic transition by imposing comprehensive economic sanctions and preventing the transfer of arms and dual-use technology to the military.  He proceeded to ask the Special Rapporteur how the international community can support the pro-democracy movement.

Meanwhile, the representative of Venezuela rejected the use of selectivity and politicization in addressing human rights situations, as well as the establishment of any instrument that targets a country without its consent.  Echoing the Non-Aligned Movement’s rejection of country-specific resolutions, he underscored that such politically motivated resolutions violate the principles of universality and objectivity with which human rights issues should be dealt.

The representative of Bangladesh, highlighting “a complete lack of engagement from Myanmar”, noted that over 1 million Rohingya Muslims sheltering in her country want to return home in safety and dignity.  She asked the Special Rapporteur about measures that would resolve the crisis and help to persuade those in power to cooperate with such mechanisms in a constructive manner.

Also speaking were representatives of Mexico, Ireland, Republic of Korea, Luxemburg, Australia, Thailand, France, Turkey, Malaysia, Belarus, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Norway, Canada, Czech Republic, and China as well as an observer for the European Union.

Mr. ANDREWS, responding, said he is open to Member States and the people of Myanmar as a resource with information, analysis and recommendations.  At the same time, “the future of Myanmar is in the hands of their people,” he said, pointing to their relentless courage.  Soon, poverty will skyrocket, as legal guarantees and basic human rights have been undermined, and speech has been criminalized.  Since the coup, forces have attacked villages with “indiscriminate ferocity” and innocent civilians have died, including children who have been captured and tortured by armed forces.  “The international community must take every action to stop this,” he stressed, outlining steps for change to occur.  Noting that Bangladesh has been extraordinary in opening its “borders, arms and hearts” to the Rohingya, he said the most important efforts that can be undertaken ‑ both outside and inside Myanmar ‑ is to end this crisis and make it possible for them to go home.  For meaningful dialogue to be possible, there must be economic and diplomatic pressure brought to bear, he said, pressing the international community also to outlaw the export of arms to the Myanmar military and ensure that weapons are not flowing into their hands.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

TOMÁS OJEA QUINTANA, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, presenting his report (document A/76/242), said the country has never been more isolated from the international community.  He urged all stakeholders to revive multilateral cooperation, describing conditions of food insecurity and shortages of essential medical supplies.

He said the Government has taken “drastic” measures to prevent COVID‑19 from entering the country, including reports of shooting individuals who attempt to enter or leave, and enacting restrictions on freedom of movement.  The situation of severe food shortages has been aggravated by the halting of United Nations humanitarian efforts in the country, he said, emphasizing that “the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea should not have to choose between the fear of hunger and the fear of Covid‑19”.  He called on the Government and the international community to ensure the prompt return of United Nations country team members, with the necessary freedom for them to undertake their life-saving work, noting that the “dark irony” is that the absence of international personnel can buttress those within the country seeking permanent isolation.

He expressed regret that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea continues its missile launches while people suffer from food shortages.  “There is no reason to escalate into a new cycle of military tension on the Korean Peninsula,” he stressed.  If steps are not taken now, the country’s extreme isolation could crystalize and become the new norm.  He urged the Government to accept the offer from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for technical assistance and to invite the High Commissioner and her staff to visit the country.

 Turning to the violation of human rights, he referred to the existence of political prison camps, child labour, oppression of freedom of religion and access to information, considering some of these violations as crimes against humanity. He went on to reiterate his calls for the referral of the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the International Criminal Court, or the establishment of an ad hoc tribunal or another comparable mechanism.  By way of conclusion, he invited the international community to explore every opportunity to help address people’s suffering.

When opening the floor for questions and comments, delegates agreed that the situation had continued to deteriorate in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea during the COVID‑19 pandemic. On the one hand, several delegates rejected the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, arguing that his work goes beyond the scope of the Committee and politicizes human rights.  Representatives of the Russian Federation, Nicaragua, Cuba, Iran, Eritrea, among other delegations, shared this view, with some stressing that the Third Committee was not the right platform to discuss this matter. China’s representative stressed that denuclearization of the peninsula should be foreseen and called for upholding the territorial integrity of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. She also requested the lifting of sanctions against the country.

On the other hand, other delegations such as the United Kingdom’s delegate, urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to engage with the Special Rapporteur. Similarly, Norway’s representative requested a gradual opening of borders for vaccine distribution, while Germany’s delegate raised concerns about the impact of COVID‑19 and food shortages on the population.

The representatives of the Republic of Korea and Japan invited the international community to facilitate the reunion of separated families and improve the livelihoods of people living in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Also speaking were representatives of Zimbabwe, Belarus, Syria, Viet Nam, Venezuela, United States, Iran, Cameroon, Czech Republic and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, as well as an observer of the European Union.

Mr. QUINTANA said the isolation of the population and lack of United Nations support are the most pressing issues, stressing that “people living in rural areas need help”.  Responding to questions on the best means to distribute vaccines, he recommended that the international community arrange a plan with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for the reopening of borders. 

He went on to sound the alarm on starvation, stressing that the situation is critical and that existing sanctions should be re-evaluated by the Security Council in light of the COVID‑19 pandemic. In his view, the objective of the mandate is to secure access on the ground, which would only be achieved by establishing dialogue with representatives of the Government.

Burundi

DOUDOU DIENE, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, presenting his report (document A/76/118), said it is based on more than 170 witness statements collected since September 2020.  Describing the human rights situation as “worrying”, marked by a closed and “closely controlled” democratic space, he said that in the wake of recent attacks, authorities are looking for people involved or suspected of collaborating with the armed groups.  Former army members and opposition party members ‑ notably of the National Congress for Liberty ‑ have been the main targets; some have been executed, others forcibly disappeared, arbitrarily detained and tortured, he said, also pointing to political opponents who were victimized under the guise of searching for those responsible for the armed attacks.  He explained that national intelligence service agents and the police members are the main perpetrators, and that the Government has increased its control over the press.  While political violence has decreased overall, political intolerance remains.  

He went on to stress that members of the National Congress for Liberty were arrested and arbitrarily detained under various pretexts, as “payback” for their activities.  Some were tortured and others have disappeared.  While the climate of hostility and suspicion towards those repatriated has subsided to a certain extent, these people are still distrusted by local authorities.  They are experiencing major difficulties in integrating into communities that took them in, due in part to chronic poverty and pre-existing vulnerabilities in these areas.  He drew attention to Burundians who live below the poverty level but nonetheless must make payments to support the party in power, stressing that they will be refused Government services or administrative documents for failure to make payments.

During the ensuing debate, Burundi’s delegate expressed regret over the subjective nature of the report, calling on Member States to disqualify it, as it is guided by political considerations which fail to recognize the efforts made by his country towards human rights.  The representative of the United States and an observer of the European Union both welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s efforts but cited alarming reports of intimidation and extrajudicial killings.

Several delegations criticized the Commission of Inquiry’s mandate, which several said violates the principle of non-interference in State affairs ‑ and the United Nations Charter itself.  The representatives of Venezuela and Cuba stressed that the discussion should be held within the universal periodic review of the Human Rights Council, while the representative of the Russian Federation considered Burundi’s human rights situation as “satisfactory”, expressing hope that the African Union would continue to serve as a liaison. In the same vein, China’s delegate called on the international community to respect the sovereignty of every State.

Also speaking were representatives of Syria, Cameroon, Nicaragua, Morocco, Equatorial Guinea, Belarus, United Kingdom, Nigeria, Netherlands, Uganda, Eritrea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Iran.

Mr. DIENE, responding, said the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council have an important responsibility, given all countries that have spoken on the situation in Burundi.  Any improvements to the human rights situation are not likely to last, as they are not deep-rooted in nature.  He appealed to the international community to work for the protection of Burundians.  He recalled the eight risk factors to be used by the international community as a “roadmap” for monitoring violations in Burundi, adding that the issues date back to the colonial era and therefore will not be resolved overnight.  He nonetheless expressed hope that the people of Burundi will benefit from the international community upholding its obligations.

For information media. Not an official record.